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Chiheb Esseghaier and Raed Jaser are charged in an alleged plot to attack a Via Rail passenger train


Two men accused of planning to derail a passenger train travelling between New York and Toronto wanted "the whole country to burn" in retaliation for Canada's military actions in Muslim countries, their trial heard on Wednesday.

Raed Jaser and Chiheb Esseghaier believed they were on a mission, a jury heard, and believed "everyone was a target."

Mr. Jaser and Mr. Esseghaier face multiple terrorism-related charges in the alleged Via Rail plot. Not-guilty pleas have been entered for both men.

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They were arrested in April, 2013, after an undercover FBI agent spent months gaining their trust the year before.

Mr. Esseghaier, a Tunisian national doing doctoral research on nanosensors in Quebec, was befriended by the undercover agent in the summer of 2012. In September of that year, Mr. Esseghaier travelled to Toronto with the agent to introduce him to Mr. Jaser, a permanent resident of Palestinian descent.

Mr. Esseghaier first revealed the alleged train plot to the undercover agent during that journey, but begged him to keep it a secret, the trial heard.

After spending some time with the agent in Toronto, Mr. Jaser allowed the plan to be fully revealed, as he, Mr. Esseghaier and the agent were on a late-night walk through a quiet residential neighbourhood.

Secret audio recordings of the men's conversations are being played at trial as the agent testifies.

On Wednesday, the court heard that, in addition to the alleged derailment plan, Mr. Jaser revealed a "sniper plot," the undercover agent said. The mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford at the time, was mentioned as an example of possible targets.

"Canada is not the U.S. … they feel safe," Mr. Jaser is heard saying. "We have lots of MPs, MPPs … the mayor of Toronto … he takes the subway."

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Mr. Ford, a strong advocate for subways who himself prefers to get around the city in his black SUV, said he had no idea he would come up at the trial. He said he first heard about the testimony from a reporter on Wednesday in the cafeteria at City Hall.

"I guess that's what bothers me the most here. No one from the authorities that are responsible for that called me, had a meeting with me," he said. "This is something that you don't joke around with or in their case ignore." At the same time, Mr. Ford said he does not believe his security needs to be strengthened. "To have someone in our car or at our house morning, noon and night, that restricts our job," he said.

In the recordings, Mr. Jaser explains the justification for the attack on the train.

"An eye for an eye," he says. "We want to make sure that they understand that as long as they're over there, their people will not feel safe on this side."

Mr. Jaser is also heard saying he could "care less who dies."

"We want this whole city, the whole country to burn," he says. "Everyone is a target."

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The alleged plot involved two men drilling a hole in a railway bridge under cover of darkness to derail the train, the trial heard.

"Me and our brother Raed want to do something very simple that doesn't need weapons," Mr. Esseghaier is heard saying. "The train is full of people … at least 200 or 300 people."

A video would then have to be posted online explaining that the derailment was an act of terrorism, the court heard.

It was in that area that Mr. Jaser and Mr. Esseghaier thought the undercover officer, who was posing as a wealthy U.S. businessman with radical Islamic views, could help them by posting the video online, the trial heard.

The officer was also to help procure equipment that would damage the railway bridge and find an apartment to store the equipment in, the court heard.

The Canadian Press, with a report from Elizabeth Church

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