Via Rail Terror Trial: Suspects Wanted ‘The Whole Country to Burn’

February 5, 2015 Updated: February 5, 2015

TORONTO—Two men accused of planning to derail a passenger train travelling between New York and Toronto wanted “the whole country to burn” in retaliation for Canada’s military actions in Muslim countries, their trial heard Wednesday.

Raed Jaser and Chiheb Esseghaier believed they were on a mission, a jury heard, and believed “everyone was a target.”

Jaser and Esseghaier face multiple terror-related charges in the alleged Via Rail plot. Not-guilty pleas have been entered for both men. They were arrested in April 2013, after an undercover FBI agent spent months gaining their trust the year before.

Esseghaier, a Tunisian national doing doctoral research on nanosensors in Quebec, was befriended by the undercover officer in the summer of 2012. In September of that year, Esseghaier travelled to Toronto with the officer to introduce him to Jaser, a permanent resident of Palestinian descent.

Esseghaier first revealed the alleged train-plot to the undercover officer during that journey, but begged him to keep it a secret, the trial heard.

It was only after spending some time with the officer in Toronto that Jaser allowed the plan to be fully revealed, as he, Esseghaier and the officer were on a late-night walk through a quiet residential neighbourhood.

Secret audio recordings of the conversations between the men are being played at trial as the officer testifies.

“Canada or America, those countries they have many the armies in our land and this army is taking control of land and is spreading the corruption on earth,” Esseghaier is heard saying. “It’s our mission to fight those countries.”

Jaser goes on to explain the justification for the attack.

“An eye for an eye,” he says. “We want to make sure that they understand that as long as they’re over there, their people will not feel safe on this side.”

Jaser is also heard saying he could “care less who dies.”

“We want this whole city, the whole country to burn,” he says. “Everyone is a target.”

The alleged train plot would see two men drill a hole in a railway bridge under cover of darkness to derail the train, the trial heard.

“Me and our brother Raed want to do something very simple that doesn’t need weapons,” Esseghaier is heard saying. “The train is full of people…at least 200 or 300 people.”

A video would then have to be posted online explaining that the derailment was an act of terrorism, court heard.

It was in that area that Jaser and Esseghaier thought the undercover officer, who was posing as a wealthy American businessman with radical Islamic views, could help them by posting the video online, the trial heard.

The officer was also to help procure equipment that would damage the railway bridge and find an apartment to store the equipment in, court heard.

“We need someone to protect our back…this person who protect our back should be someone who has a very good position,” Esseghaier is heard saying. “He has, you know, the ability to manage the situation by distance.”

On that same walk, Jaser also revealed a long-term “sniper plot” to target leaders in Canadian society, court heard.

“Canada is not the U.S. … they feel safe,” Jaser is heard saying. “We have lots of MPs, MPPs… the Mayor of Toronto… he takes the subway.”

Jaser noted he planned to get a gun licence and a rifle, court heard.

He went on to urge Esseghaier and the undercover officer to think of “some other target,” saying they could work “multiple missions,” court heard.

Throughout their discussions, Jaser was on guard, the trial heard, instructing the trio to leave their phones in a car before they set off and keeping them away from other pedestrians.

A day earlier, when the officer met with Jaser for the first time, that same sense of vigilance was demonstrated, court heard.

“Mr. Jaser said ‘we are being watched. The government knows who we are and where we are at all times,”‘ the officer testified.

The undercover officer also said Jaser told him “Islam is not rational.”

“He said that we may be viewed as too extreme, too radical,” the officer recalled. “Then he said, the thing is, we are.”