TORONTO – Two men could spend the rest of their lives in prison after being found guilty of several terror-related charges for plotting to attack a passenger train traveling from New York to Toronto.
Prosecutors had argued during the trial that the men were motivated by Islamic extremism and spent months plotting to kill as many people as they could. Investigators said the men received guidance from members of al-Qaida, in what they called the first known attack planned by the terrorist network in Canada.
Raed Jaser, a longtime resident of Canada of Palestinian descent, and Tunisian-born Chiheb Esseghaier were arrested in 2013. Jaser, 37, and Esseghaier, 32, had pleaded not guilty.
On Friday, the 10th day of deliberations, the jury found both men guilty of conspiring to commit murder in association with a terrorist group. The men, who will be sentenced April 10, could face maximum punishment of up to life in prison.
Jaser's lawyer had argued that his client was only feigning interest in the alleged terror plot as part of an elaborate scheme to extract money from his co-defendant and an undercover FBI agent who befriended the men.
Esseghaier appeared unruffled as the Toronto jury found him guilty on all five terrorism charges against him. He calmly repeated that he hadn't participated in the trial and didn't want to take part in sentencing arguments either.
Jaser looked at the ceiling at one point after the jury delivered their verdicts, finding him guilty of three out of the four charges he faced. He then kept his right hand up to his face through the rest of the proceeding, biting his knuckles at one point.
Outside the courthouse, prosecutor Croft Michaelson called Jaser and Esseghaier "real serious public dangers," and thanked U.S. authorities for their co-operation in the investigation.
The investigation surrounding the planned attack was part of a cross-border operation involving Canadian law enforcement agencies, the FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Canadian police said the men never got close to carrying out the attack.
Train routes between the United States and Canada, including the Maple Leaf from New York City to Toronto, are jointly operated by Amtrak and Via Rail Canada.
Law officials in New York with knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press back in 2013 that the attack was to take place on the Canadian side of the border.
Police were originally tipped off by an imam worried by the behavior of one of the suspects.
Jaser, who was born in the United Arab Emirates to Palestinian parents, was living in Toronto at the time of his arrest.
Esseghaier, who was pursuing a doctorate in Montreal when he was arrested in 2013, chose not to participate in his trial because he had wanted to be judged by the rules of the Quran.
He did not cross-examine any witnesses, refused to mount a defense and frequently fell asleep in the prisoner's box.
The trial, which began Feb. 2, heard hours of secretly recorded conversations between Jaser, Esseghaier and an FBI agent who posed as a wealthy American businessman with radical views.
It was on those wiretaps that Jaser and Esseghaier were heard musing about alleged terror plots to be carried out in retaliation for Canadian military action in predominantly Muslim countries.
Investigators said the men were advised by al-Qaida members in Iran. That raised questions about the extent of Shiite-led Iran's complicated relationship with al-Qaida, the predominantly Sunni Arab terrorist network. Iran's history with the group ranges from alliances of convenience to outright hostility, even overtures by Tehran to assist Washington after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.