The Terror Trial In Quebec: Only The Qur’an, Not The Criminal Code Of Canada, Should Apply
Esseghaier and Jaser, and their view of the world — Islam straight up, not diluted on the rocks of custom or caution — set out for all to see. So see. (Fitzgerald)
Via Rail defendant throws his book at the jury: DiManno
Chiheb Esseghaier’s statement to the jury was about his god and his creed, which have come up before in the trial, writes Rosie DiManno. (The Star)
He refuses to be judged by Canadian laws, Canadian courts or a Canadian jury.
Yet judgment day looms all the same for Chiheb Esseghaier and his co-defendant, Raed Jaser, on multiple terrorism-related charges that can carry a life sentence.
Esseghaier, the Tunisian national who was pursuing a PhD and working in a Montreal lab when the pair was arrested nearly two years ago, has steadfastly eschewed participating in the trial which began Feb. 2. He entered no plea. Justice Michael Code did that — not guilty — on his behalf.
He is self-represented, with only an amicus curiae — a friend of the court — assisting on legal matters, if sought.
He cross-examined no prosecution witness.
Late Wednesday afternoon, after the Crown had finished closing arguments — revisiting the “overwhelming” evidence that these two men had plotted to derail a passenger train in pursuit of a radical Islamist agenda — Esseghaier finally engaged with the judicial process and presented his position to the jury. At the judge’s suggestion, Esseghaier’s two-page statement was read into the record by his amicus, Ingrid Grant.
“Members of the jury, I’m addressing you today not because I want to participate in the trial or to defend myself. Not at all! I’m addressing you today because I want to give you sincere advice.”
His sincerity won’t be disputed here. His rigid religious views are the crux of the matter.
“This trial was conducted pursuant to the ‘Criminal Code’ which is a book written by humans. Everybody knows that humans are not perfect and that God the Creator of the Universe is perfect. That’s why I required the Holy Qur’an as unique reference of my trial and the judgment of all matter of people’s life.
“Today, I encourage you to retreat from the charge that has been affected to you as a first step of your sincere repentance to God your True Lord.
“I admonish you to take this decision as soon as possible because this court still being submitted to the Canadian laws instead of the laws of God that are detailed in the Holy Qur’an.”
The Qur’an, as court has heard lo these many weeks — in wiretap conversations played for the jury, most of them clandestinely recorded by an undercover FBI agent who had befriended Esseghaier and Jaser posing as a like-minded righteous jihadist — was the moral compass that guided the defendants’ alleged actions. Specifically, in the interpretation of scripture embraced in those wiretaps by the accused, justifying the mass havoc that would pressure that would pressure Ottawa into removing Canadian troops from Muslim lands.
In his statement Esseghaier reminded the jurists that he is a man of science who was on the verge of writing a biophysics thesis when arrested April 22, 2013. “That’s why I invite you to trust me when I say to you that the Qur’an provided by the prophet Mohammed in the 7th century contains scientific statements that you can never reach without issuing the technology of the 20th century.”
It sounded an awful lot like proselytizing from the docket, and rather ironic since conversion to Christianity by Bible-thumpers on evangelizing missions to Muslim countries was among the many insults to Islam expressed by Esseghaier and Jaser in the intercepts. Offences against Muslims, court heard in the wiretaps, justified retaliatory attacks the men were allegedly planning: From sabotaging of railway tracks (the gist of the indictment), to poisoning Western troops at an overseas base, to killing prominent Canadians and Jews by sniper fire at such soft-target events as the Pride parade.
“Please, read about the scientific and mathematical miracles of the Holy Qur’an before taking any decision regarding your retreat from the court and from the charge given to you,” Esseghaier continued, by which he presumably meant before they begin their deliberations next week, after Code’s charge.
“Remember that God doesn’t need my striving for the application of His Laws on the whole earth in one single state.”
The jurors listened attentively, if not necessarily comprehendingly.
“God doesn’t need the whole universe. Anything good we do, me or you, we do it only for the good of our own soul. How come you believe that many human beings are judges and God, creator of humans, is not judge?”
“If there is not Judgment Day and no reckoning of what we do in this universe, then God is not judge and then God has created this universe for nothing.”
As if the jury didn’t have enough to consider already in their deliberations — to wit, some 25 hours of wiretapped conversations between Esseghaier, Jaser and the FBI agent, Tamer El-Noury.
In contrast to Esseghaier’s rhetorical flourish, Crown lawyer Croft Michaelson spent about four hours methodically reviewing the evidence.
“The evidence is overwhelming that they agreed to cause damage to a railway bridge and agreed to murder persons,” said Michaelson. “Their trips to scout out railways stations . . . their recruitment of the (undercover) officer, their discussions concerning all the logistics of their attacks, their statements expressing their extremist views . . . established both the general conspiracy to commit murder and the conspiracy to damage a railway bridge beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Michaelson took the jury through the recorded conversations and surveillance videos they’ve seen, emphasizing reconnaissance undertakings the alleged co-conspirators had made when surveying railway tracks used by the Maple Leaf, a Via passenger train that travels daily between New York City and Toronto. They first cased a spot near St. Catharines, stopping to pray near the tracks. That location was rejected as too close to a residential area where they might be seen drilling a hole through the elevated track, as originally envisioned. Shortly afterwards, and in the company of the FBI agent, they sized up a more preferable attack target on a trestle bridge just outside Toronto but were spotted and briefly questioned by cops.
That nervous episode ultimately led to a rift between Esseghaier and Jaser, with the latter complaining that his alleged partner in terror was too heedless of risks. By late September, Jaser had withdrawn from the plot entirely.
But Michaelson stressed to the jury that Jaser, a Palestinian with landed Canadian status, had been enthusiastically all-in prior to the breakup. It was Jaser who had repeatedly advanced the sniper scheme and Jaser who maintained that all the world fell into three categories — Muslims, non-Muslims who “enjoy Muslim protection,” and “fighters who need to be eliminated.”
On the tapes, Jaser is heard saying: “Everyone is a target. We want this whole city to burn. I could care less who dies.”
The men, said Michaelson, had not limited their terrorist ambitions to assaulting a passenger train.
“They intended to carry out continuous acts of Jihad, continuous acts of terror. It’s a general conspiracy to murder persons unknown until Canadian troops leave Muslim lands.”
Jaser grew weary, however, with Esseghaier’s obedience to mission instructions from his purported Taliban and Al Qaeda mentors overseas — fighters he’d met during two trips to Iran — and his insistence on waiting for “the green light” from a senior operative in Afghanistan.
Doubtless intending to pre-empt a potential defence from Jaser’s lawyer — Jaser has pleaded not guilty — that the defendant was never serious about committing the plots so endlessly discussed and, in any event, had dropped out of the whole enterprise, Michaelson said that “it is not a defence to abandon or withdraw from a conspiracy.”
Jaser, Michaelson told the jury, was driven by two goals: “Victory of Islam over disbelievers or death in paradise.”
The Crown wrapped up dramatically.
“You must convict them. Not because they might be guilty. Not because they’re probably guilty. But because the overwhelming evidence has established they are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. And in the face of this overwhelming evidence, nothing else makes sense.”
Jaser’s lawyer, John Norris, delivers his closing address Thursday.
The Crown wrapped up dramatically. “You must convict them. Not because they might be guilty. Not because they’re probably guilty. But because the overwhelming evidence has established they are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. And in the face of this overwhelming evidence, nothing else makes sense.”