Via Rail Plotters Were Evil, FBI Undercover Agent Says
TORONTO — By the time he was sentenced to life in prison for plotting to wreck a Via Rail train and other terrorist acts, Chiheb Esseghaier had been diagnosed as psychotic, having gone on incoherent rants, spit at a witness and fallen asleep during his trial.
Co-accused Raed Jaser claimed he was a mere drug addict trying to scam money from an undercover FBI agent posing as a rich jihadist.
And a third associate said the whole terrorist conspiracy was “manufactured” by the agent.
That police officer has just broken cover to offer a “deep dive” into his rarefied world. And he jumped at the chance Tuesday to debunk the notion that the men he helped convict were anything but die-hard, would-be terrorists – or that he somehow manipulated them.
Agent Tamer Elnoury describes how Esseghaier gave him chills from the first time they met, musing casually about shooting down passenger aircraft.
“The look in Chiheb’s eyes when he talked about killing infidels was something I’d never seen before in my life,” he writes in American Radical, a new book that focuses largely on the Via case. “It was a look of hatred and death.”
Lawyers have suggested that Esseghaier’s 2015 conviction was tainted by the mental illness that seemed to manifest itself at trial, an issue expected to figure prominently in his appeal.
But Elnoury — the agent’s cover name in the Canadian investigation — says the Tunisian-born PhD student from Montreal “absolutely” knew right from wrong as the conspiracy unfolded, offering complex justifications for his planned violence, and removing cell-phone batteries and doing other counter-surveillance to try to avoid police scrutiny.
“That isn’t someone who isn’t aware of what’s happening, who’s ‘out there,’ ” he said in an interview. “That’s someone who’s calculating to commit mass murder.”
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