March 20, 2015 / 6:44 PM / 4 years ago

Canadian jury finds two men guilty in plot to derail train

TORONTO (Reuters) - A Canadian jury on Friday found two men guilty of planning to derail a passenger train traveling between Canada and the United States in a plot intended to instill fear and force the two countries to withdraw troops from Muslim lands.

The case against Tunisian postdoctoral student Chiheb Esseghaier, 32, and Raed Jaser, 37, a permanent Canadian resident of Palestinian descent, relied heavily on intercepted conversations between them and an undercover FBI agent.

The agent posed as a wealthy businessman with radical views who could help pull off the train attack and other violent plots, including plans to target political leaders.

After 10 days of deliberations, Canadian media reported the jury found Esseghaier guilty on all five charges he faced and found Jaser guilty on three of the four charges he faced. Both were found guilty on the key charges of conspiring to murder and participating in a terrorist group.

The jury was deadlocked on the charge against Jaser of conspiring to damage transportation property with the intent to endanger safety.

The two men will be sentenced at a later date. The conspiracy charges carry a maximum sentence of life, while participating in a terrorist group carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.

Jaser’s lawyer had argued that his client was a con man feigning interest in the alleged plots to scam money out of his co-accused and the agent.

Esseghaier refused to acknowledge the authority of the court and did not retain legal counsel, arguing that the Koran should be used as the sole legal reference. He occasionally dozed off during the month-long trial, while Jaser followed proceedings intently. Neither man mounted a defense nor took the stand.

The two men were arrested in April 2013, and police at the time said the plot was backed by al Qaeda.

The undercover agent, whose identity Judge Michael Code went to extraordinary lengths to protect, befriended Esseghaier on a flight before later being introduced to Jaser.

Journalists were moved to another courtroom during the agent’s testimony, which was given under the pseudonym, Tamer el-Noury, by which the accused pair knew him.

Prosecutor Croft Michaelson praised U.S. help with the investigation, saying the FBI agent’s work was central to the case.

“The case really largely turned on his investigative efforts, the effort he had made to successfully infiltrate this terrorist cell that was in our midst in 2012,” Michaelson said.

Reporting by Andrea Hopkins and Alastair Sharp; Editing by Chris Reese and Alan Crosby

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