TORONTO (Reuters) - Two men charged with plotting to derail a train traveling from New York to Toronto had their plans foiled by an undercover police officer who convinced them he could help pull off the attack, jurors heard at the opening of their trial on Monday.
One of the men, Tunisian Chiheb Esseghaier, told the undercover officer that he had met with “mujahideen” in Iran and had a plan in place with a “Palestinian brother,” a reference to the second defendant, Raed Jaser, the court heard. Mujahideen are radical Islamist guerilla fighters.
In opening remarks, prosecuting lawyers said the two were motivated by Islamic extremism and wanted to murder people to instill fear, and so that Canada and the United States would remove their troops from Muslim lands.
The pair also spoke of other plans, including the use of a sniper to target political leaders, the undercover officer said.
“We don’t want the sheep. We want the wolf,” Jaser told the undercover officer and Esseghaier in September 2012, making reference to the Group of 8 summits often held in Canada.
The two men were arrested in April 2013, and police at the time said the plot was backed by al Qaeda. Each of the men faces five terrorism-related charges, and not guilty pleas have been entered on their behalf.
The undercover officer, whose identity is the subject of a publication ban, told the Toronto court that he befriended Esseghaier on a flight from Houston to Santa Clara, California, in June, 2012.
He told Esseghaier he worked for his uncle in a high-end real estate business. On the 3-1/2 hour flight they talked about “a great deal of religion, some politics,” said the officer, the first witness put on the stand by prosecutors in a trial that is expected to last six to eight weeks.
The agent visited Esseghaier in Montreal, where he was living while a PhD student in medical biotechnology.
At Esseghaier’s one-bedroom apartment, the agent sat on a mattress in the living room while Esseghaier told him to turn off his mobile phones and then showed him visas and stamps for his recent trips to Iran, the court heard.
The Muslim guerilla fighters he meet with in Iran told Esseghaier to return to Canada, the officer said.
The pair later visited potential sites for the attack on at least two occasions, prosecutors said.
Jaser’s father and lawyer both declined to comment when approached by Reuters. Esseghaier has refused to acknowledge the authority of the court and has not retained legal counsel.
Reporting by Alastair Sharp; Additional reporting by Randall Palmer; Editing by Steve Orlofsky