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Man charged in alleged Via terror plot unable to find lawyer

Terror suspect Chiheb Esseghaier arrives at Buttonville Airport just north of Toronto on April 23, 2013. He is expected to appear in a Toronto court via a video link June 6, 2013.

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

A terror suspect charged in an alleged plot to attack a Via Rail passenger train is having difficulty finding a lawyer who will try convincing a court to judge him against the Qur'an. Chiheb Esseghaier appeared in a Toronto court via video link on Monday to discuss his attempts to find legal aid representation – a process which has so far been unsuccessful due to the specific and unusual demands he has made.

"I want that the lawyer help me to change the reference of my case from the laws used by humans to the laws of the holy book," he told the court. "I cannot take a lawyer who is not able to fulfill my need."

When asked by the presiding justice of peace if he fully understood the proceedings, Esseghaier, who was wearing an orange jumpsuit and sported a full beard, said he did.

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As the Crown prosecutor told the court the last potential lawyer offered to Esseghaier had been unable to represent him based on his demands, the Montreal man repeatedly asked to be allowed to comment.

"It's not me I refuse the last lawyer," an adamant Esseghaier said.

"He write on a piece of paper, he write and he sign that he is not able to convince the court to change the reference of my case from the Criminal Code to the holy Qur'an."

"He said to me I am not able to fulfill your need, so what I can do? I cannot accept him."

Esseghaier's comments on Monday echoed previous statements in which he's said he doesn't recognize the secular authority of the Criminal Code in judging him.

The 30-year-old Tunisian national was told to continue his search for a lawyer and will next appear in Toronto court via video on June 25.

That's the same day his co-accused, Raed Jaser, a 35-year-old Toronto resident, is set to appear again in court, also via video.

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Esseghaier and Jaser were arrested in April and face several terrorism related charges in what police allege was a plot guided by al-Qaida in Iran to attack a Via train that runs between Toronto and New York City. Police stressed at the time of the arrests that there was no imminent threat to the public.

Both Esseghaier and Jaser, a Palestinian, are charged with conspiracy to murder for the benefit of a terrorist group, participating in a terrorist group and conspiring to interfere with transportation facilities for the benefit of a terrorist group. Esseghaier faces an additional count of instructing someone to carry out an activity for the benefit of a terrorist group.

If convicted, they could be sentenced to life in prison.

Jaser's lawyer has denied the allegations against his client.

A third man named Ahmed Abassi is facing terrorism charges in the U.S., and prosecutors allege he had "radicalized" Esseghaier.

They also say Abassi did not support the alleged Via Rail plot and was pushing for a different plan that would contaminate the air or water with bacteria and kill up to 100,000 people.

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Esseghaier is a biotechnology expert who was performing doctoral studies on nanosensors at a Montreal-area university.

The Tunisian Embassy in Ottawa has said he arrived in Canada in August 2008 and called him a "brilliant PhD student."

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