TORONTO — A man who was heard saying he wanted “the whole country to burn” was never actually interested in carrying out terrorists activities but was posing as a radicalized extremist as part of an elaborate con, his lawyer argued Thursday.
In closing submissions to the jury, Raed Jaser’s lawyer repeatedly said his client was only really concerned with extracting money from his co-accused and an undercover FBI agent who joined their alleged plot to derail a passenger train.
“Mr. Jaser, in short, is a con man. He is not a terrorist,” John Norris said. “I trust you will see him for what he really is and return verdicts of not guilty.”
Jaser and Chiheb Esseghaier face several terror-related charges in the alleged plot to derail a Via Rail train travelling between Canada and the U.S.
Jaser pleaded not guilty and Esseghaier, who is representing himself, had to have a not-guilty plea entered for him by the judge as he didn’t wish to participate in the trial.
The court has heard hours of secretly recorded conversations between Jaser, Esseghaier and the undercover officer in which they discuss ideology and alleged terror plots — including the alleged train derailment plan.
Jaser in particular has been heard saying things like “I could care less who dies, everyone is a target” and has been heard discussing how an attack would be retaliation for western military action in Muslim lands.
Norris acknowledged that Jaser had indeed said “many, many terrible things,” but emphasized that his client was just playing a part.
“No doubt you found it difficult to listen to some of the things Mr. Jaser said,” Norris told the jury. “I will be urging you to find that Mr. Jaser was not sincere in anything he said about the plots, or at the very least that you should have a reasonable doubt about his sincerity.”
However things might have appeared, Jaser’s involvement with Esseghaier and his engagement with him in relation to terrorist plots was “entirely feigned,” Norris emphasized.
“It was a front Mr. Jaser adopted because he thought he could get something he wanted out of Mr. Esseghaier and then a little bit later, out of (the undercover agent,” Norris said. “What was it he wanted? Money.”
Esseghaier did have terrorist aspirations, Norris argued, but there was no “meeting of the minds” between Jaser and Esseghaier, nor did Jaser have the “knowledge or purpose” necessary to participate in the offences he is charged with.
The Crown has argued that there is an “overwhelming” amount of evidence in the case against both Jaser and Esseghaier, and has urged the jury to find both men guilty on all charges.
Crown prosecutor Croft Michaelson emphasized in particular that there was “no evidentiary foundation” to suggest Jaser was discussing long-term operations allegedly related to terrorism for pure material reward.
Norris disagreed, claiming Jaser had only an “entirely dishonest” financial motive.
“What would work if you’re trying to extract money from people who say they have money to fund jihadist projects? You would say you were part of their jihadist project and, by the way, you have some ideas for other things but they just need an infusion of cash.”
Jaser also suggested Esseghaier had been duped by extremists he claimed to have established a relationship with in Iran. The Crown has argued that even if Esseghaier had been scammed, that didn’t change his own alleged terror intentions.
But Norris suggested the possibility that Esseghaier never actually made contact with true jihadists was an important factor.
“Mr. Esseghaier’s dealings with the brothers overseas point to his gullibility. If he was an easy mark for them, he could be an easy mark for Mr Jaser as well,” Norris said. “Second, it should banish any thought that Mr. Jaser must be the real deal because Esseghaier thought he was.”
Norris also pointed out that there appeared to be no evidence of Jaser carrying on with any alleged terror plans after he and Esseghaier had a falling out over the alleged train project.
“Everything stops once Mr. Esseghaier and (the undercover officer) walk off the stage,” he said. “When there was no longer any possibility of scamming either Mr. Esseghaier or (the undercover agent,) Mr. Jaser simply stopped playing that role.”