It’s amazing what the right medication can do.

It’s the first time we’ve seen Chiheb Esseghaier since he was sentenced in 2015 to life in prison for masterminding the plot to derail a Toronto-bound VIA passenger train — and what a transformation he is.


Gone are the wild eyes, tangled beard and religious tirades.

Instead, the well-groomed Esseghaier sat calmly for hours in a British Columbia prison cell watching a video link of lawyers arguing before the Ontario Court of Appeal that both he and fellow convicted terrorist Raed Jaser deserve a new trial because of an error in the selection of their jury in 2014.

Esseghaier and Jaser conspired in a multitude of conversations captured on wiretaps and bodypack recordings by an undercover FBI agent who posed as a rich Muslim-American businessman with similar jihadist ideals.

Esseghaier told him he was directed by his al-Qaida-linked “brothers” and planned to kill passengers on a New York-to-Toronto train in retaliation for Western troops contaminating Muslim lands with “corruption, evil and Christianity.”

Jaser preferred a sniper plot that targeted Jews and national leaders. “We don’t want the sheep. We want the wolf. We can get the wolf, brother, we can get the wolf,” Jaser said.

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Artist sketches of Chiheb Esseghaier and Raed Jaser are shown. (The Canadian Press)

Both were convicted on a number of terror-related charges and sentenced to life. Now they’re appealing on several grounds — the first to be determined is whether their trial was flawed from the start because the jury selection procedure was illegal.

The defence argument centres around the “challenge for cause.” Because it was a high-profile case with concerns about Islamophobia, Justice Michael Code agreed prospective jurors should answer questions to screen out those biased by pre-trial publicity or racial prejudice.

Jaser’s lawyers wanted all prospective jurors excused from the courtroom so they wouldn’t be tainted by hearing the questioning by “rotating triers” — a different pair would determine whether the potential jury member was acceptable or biased. Each newly appointed juror would then replace one of the two triers until the full jury was chosen.

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The judge refused to use “rotating triers”  — he believed the only way to select the jury was to exclude everyone and use “static triers” — the same two would assess all jurors but not serve on the jury themselves.

Since then, the appeal court has ruled against such unilateral jury selection decisions — in fact, Eaton Centre shooter Christopher Husbands won his new trial as a result.

Now the terror twins argue they deserve a retrial as well.

At the end of the long legal arguments, Justice Paul Rouleau asked Esseghaier if he had anything to add.

In the past, this is where the Tunisian former PhD student would launch into one of his bizarre rants about how he can’t be judged by Canadian laws and that he’s a prophet sent to warn mankind about “hellfire” if the Qur’an isn’t followed.

Covering Esseghaier at his trial and sentencing meant no shortage of outbursts from the increasingly delusional terrorist: At one point, he threw a glass of water and spit at his court-appointed lawyer and banged on the Plexiglas of his prisoner’s box.

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Esseghaier raved that God was transporting him to heaven via a plane on Dec. 25, 2014, and it couldn’t be 2015 because he was still alive.  He also believed prison guards were really filmmakers chronicling his life.

Clearly he was mentally ill. Now, more than three years later, Esseghaier is a changed man.

“I would like to say that I didn’t take part in the trial and challenge for cause because I was suffering from schizophrenia. My mind was completely outside the court,” he told the appeal panel.

“If I was not sick, I would have chosen rotating triers, not static triers. But because of illness, I wasn’t able to participate in the trial and I didn’t hire a lawyer and all these things happened to me.”

But now Esseghaier and his co-conspirator may actually have a good chance of winning the new trial they seek.

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MANDEL: VIA Rail terrorists may just get new trial



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