Via Rail plot trial: Jurors reach partial verdict after 8th day of deliberations

Jurors in the trial of Raed Jaser and Chiheb Esseghaier, two men accused of plotting to derail a Via passenger train travelling between Canada and the U.S., have halted deliberations for the night and are set to start a ninth day of deliberations tomorrow as they try to reach a verdict on all charges.

Case hinges on secret wiretaps between Raed Jaser and Chiheb Esseghaier and undercover FBI agent

The trial heard 25 hours of secretly recorded conversations between Raed Jaser, left, Chiheb Esseghaier and an undercover FBI agent. (Tammy Hoy/John Mantha/Canadian Press)

Jurors in the trial of Raed Jaser and Chiheb Esseghaier, two men accused of plotting to derail a Via passenger train travelling between Canada and the U.S., have halted deliberations for the night and are set to start a ninth day of deliberations Thursday as they try to reach a verdict on all charges. 

Jaser is facing four terrorism-related charges while Esseghaier is also facing a fifth terrorism-related charge.

Earlier Wednesday, jurors told Judge Michael Code that they had reached agreement on charges for one of the accused, but were at an impasse on some charges for the other man.

It’s not clear what verdict they reached, or whom it related to.

The jurors in the Toronto case have been deliberating for eight days and are set to continue on Thursday.

"Would you please try once again to reach a verdict," Code asked the jury earlier in the day after they notified him of the impasse.

"This is a time for each of you to reflect further on the evidence to see whether by carefully considering the various positions and listening to each other you can come to an agreement and render a unanimous verdict."

The judge told the jurors before they began their deliberations last week that the most important evidence in the case was 25 hours of secretly recorded conversations between the accused and an undercover FBI agent.

The officer posed as a wealthy Egyptian-American real estate developer whose views had supposedly become more hardline in recent years and who was a willing accomplice in the alleged conspiracy.

He rented a "safe house," which had been bugged by police, for the operation. And he bought the two accused plotters meals, drove them to scouting locations and handed out cash.

The court heard conversations in which Jaser and Esseghaier discussed their ideologies, the alleged plot to derail a Via Rail train travelling between New York and Toronto and other ideas for potential attacks, including Jaser’s alleged "sniper plot" idea, which would have been in retaliation for Canadian military actions in Muslim countries.

Jurors were also shown aerial surveillance of the two accused and the undercover officer scouting a railway bridge in September 2012 in broad daylight as several trains passed by only metres away.

Their presence near the bridge drew attention, and the men were stopped after they had returned to their vehicle by uniformed Toronto police officers who were unaware the men were under surveillance. The FBI agent told officers they were sightseeing and the men were given a warning.

Esseghaier refuses to participate in trial

Jaser’s lawyer argued that he was only pretending to be interested in the plan as part of an elaborate scheme to extract money from Esseghaier and the undercover officer.

Jaser, a Canadian permanent resident of Palestinian descent, pleaded not guilty. He did not testify in his own defence.

Esseghaier, a Tunisian national who was pursuing a PhD in Montreal when he and Jaser were arrested in April 2013, chose not to participate in his trial, because he wants to be judged by the rules of the Qur'an.

He did not cross-examine any witnesses or bring a defence, but he did offer the jury what he considered "sincere advice" in an unusual written closing statement, urging them to follow the rules of the Qur'an and prepare for "judgment day."

He had a not guilty plea entered by the judge. 

With files from The Canadian Press


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