Via terror suspect case moves a step ahead; judicial pre-trial set

TORONTO – The case against two terror suspects accused in an alleged plot to attack a Via Rail passenger train will enter its next stage in September.

Chiheb Esseghaier and Raed Jaser appeared in court via video Monday and Sept. 23 was set for their judicial pre-trial, at which the accused and the Crown will discuss the case with a judge.

The two men were arrested in April and face several terrorism-related charges in what police allege was a plot guided by al-Qaida in Iran to attack a Via train that runs between Toronto and New York City.

Police stressed at the time of the arrests that there was no imminent threat to the public.

Federal Crown attorney Sarah Shaikh told court today that hard drives of evidence have been provided to Jaser’s lawyer and to Esseghaier, and the disclosure process is now “substantially complete.”

Esseghaier is set to represent himself at the judicial pre-trial, as he still does not have a lawyer because he insists his case be based on the Qur’an and not the Criminal Code.

“I already said many times…I want judgment based on the Holy Qur’an,” Esseghaier said via video from the Metro West Detention Centre.

He began to repeat his oft-stated desire for a lawyer to use the Qur’an as a “reference” but the justice of the peace cut him off, saying, “Thank you, we’re done.”

Jaser faces three charges and Esseghaier, a PhD student doing doctoral research on nanosensors in Quebec, is facing five charges, including instructing someone to carry out an activity for the benefit of a terrorist group.

If convicted, they could be sentenced to life in prison.

A third man, Ahmed Abassi, is facing terrorism charges in the U.S. and prosecutors allege he “radicalized” Esseghaier. American authorities also said Abassi did not support the alleged Via Rail plot and was pushing for a different plan that would contaminate the air or water with bacteria and kill up to 100,000 people.