2 Via Rail terror plotters sentenced to life in prison
Judge says terror plot was 'designed to result in indiscriminate killings'
Raed Jaser and Chiheb Esseghaier, the men convicted earlier this year on terrorism charges for plotting to derail a Via passenger train, were both sentenced to life in prison today in a Toronto courtroom.
In passing sentence, Superior Court of Justice Judge Michael Code said the unusual gravity of terrorism offences means he had to send a strong enough message to deter others considering carrying out similar crimes. He said there was little evidence presented that mitigates the presumptive sentence of life in prison.
"These are the most serious of terrorism offences, designed to result in indiscriminate killings of innocent human beings," he said.
"I am satisfied that life imprisonment is the appropriate sentence," the judge added, noting that the men would receive credit for time already spent in custody.
He said both men have not renounced their violent, jihadist ideology and have shown no remorse.
Crown sought life sentences
In March, both men were found guilty of conspiring to commit murder for the benefit of, at the direction of or in association with a terrorist group.
Esseghaier, of Montreal, was found guilty of all charges against him, while Jaser, of Toronto, was convicted of all but one charge. The jury also found the men guilty of six other terror-related charges between them.
The Crown was seeking life sentences for both men.
John Norris, Jaser's lawyer, argued for a sentence of 5½ years in jail which would include three years for time already served. Esseghaier made no sentencing submission.
"We do view it as excessive," Norris said of the sentence, adding that Jaser was "somewhat stunned" by Wednesday's developments.
"He is a resilient man. He is trying to remain positive."
"There was one message that was made loud and clear today," said Crown prosecutor Croft Michaelson. "That message is if you commit terrorist offences in Canada, with the intention of causing indiscriminate killing, you're going to pay a very heavy price."
Esseghaier crossed his arms and leaned back in the prisoner's box as Code read out his 53-page sentencing decision.
'Sentence doesn't have any meaning'
"The life sentence doesn't have any meaning for me," Esseghaier told the judge after his sentence was delivered, adding God was his "master."
A copy of the ruling was offered to Esseghaier after it was read by the judge, but he threw it back.
Regarding Esseghaier, the judge addressed in detail questions about his mental health, including Esseghaier's assertion that it is currently the year 2014 and that he and his soul, will be released from jail on Dec. 25 of that year.
The judge called them "realizations" not "delusions" and said he's skeptical Esseghaier is schizophrenic. In short, he said, Esseghaier's mental health was not a mitigating factor in the sentence.
"The evidence is overwhelming that he was not delusional or psychotic at the time of the offence," Code said. "It is unprecedented to adjourn a sentencing hearing indefinitely to await treatment."
Code said it was "unnecessary to arrive at any firm conclusions regarding Esseghaier's alleged mental illness."
The most important evidence in the case was 25 hours of secretly recorded conversations between the two men and an undercover FBI agent. The agent posed as a wealthy Egyptian-American real estate developer whose views had supposedly become more hard line in recent years and who was a willing accomplice in the conspiracy.
The court heard conversations in which Jaser and Esseghaier discussed their ideologies, the plot to derail a Via Rail train travelling between New York and Toronto and other ideas for potential attacks.
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.
In passing sentence Wednesday, Code rejected Jaser's argument that he was entrapped by the undercover FBI agent, saying both he and Esseghaier were predisposed to carry out violent acts before the agent was introduced to the group.
Both men must serve 10 years before they are eligible for parole.
With files from The Canadian Press