Via accused urges jury to prepare for ‘Judgment Day’
For the first time, Chiheb Esseghaier speaks.
Well, not exactly. The accused terrorist has remained mute throughout his terror trial, not recognizing the jurisdiction of the Canadian legal system and choosing not to participate if he was going to be tried according to the Criminal Code and not the Qur’an.
He and his co-accused, Raed Jaser, face numerous terror-related charges in relation to a plan to murder passengers by derailing a train travelling between New York and Toronto. While Jaser pleaded not guilty, Esseghaier remained silent behind his long, unkempt beard and Justice Michael Code entered a not-guilty plea on his behalf.
As Crown attorney Croft Michaelson reminded the jury in his closing address Wednesday, we’ve heard “overwhelming evidence” from the secret audio recordings made by an undercover FBI agent posing as a rich American Muslim with radical views. We’ve heard Esseghaier use the Qur’an to justify the killing of innocent women and children. We’ve heard him lecture about his religious duty to wage jihad and his instructions from the “brothers overseas” — but all via recordings and translated transcripts.
How he would answer to these charges, we have not heard one word at all. Instead, he’s often been seen in the prisoner’s box sleeping away.
After almost four weeks of Crown testimony, neither co-accused offered defence evidence. Now was time for all sides to give their closing submissions. Going first, the Crown insisted the longtime friends were Islamic extremists bent on killing non-believers as punishment for American and Canadian troops in Muslim lands.
While Jaser bailed on the plot on Sept. 24, 2012, Michaelson argued that was only because he was spooked when they were questioned by police and backing out is not a defence.
“You must convict them,” he urged the jury, “not because they might not be guilty, not because they’re probably guilty, but because the overwhelming evidence has established they are guilty beyond any reasonable doubt and in the face of this overwhelming evidence, nothing else makes any sense.”
It was now Esseghaier’s chance to speak to the jury. Would he maintain his right to silence?
Not a chance. During this trial, we’ve heard the two accused talk about Dawah, the need to preach Islam. They did it in Jordan Harbour when they got lost on their alleged reconnaissance mission and stumbled into someone’s backyard. And now was finally Esseghaier’s chance to give Dawah to this jury of non-believers.
And so, with quite an extraordinary go-ahead from the judge, an alleged terrorist accused of conspiracy to murder was given a pulpit to lecture a Canadian jury on why our rule of law doesn’t apply to him and why his religion should supercede theirs.
They did an amazing job at keeping a straight face as he urged them to repent and prepare for “Judgment Day.”
“Members of the jury, I’m addressing you today not because I want to participate in the trial or to defend myself. Not at all! I’m addressing you today because I want to give you sincere advice,” Esseghaier wrote in his two-page address delivered for him by lawyer Ingrid Grant.
His trial was conducted according to the Criminal Code, he continued, a book written by mere humans who, unlike God, are not perfect. “That’s why I required the Holy Qur’an as unique reference of my trial and the judgment of all matter of people’s life.”
He encouraged the jury to “retreat from the charge that has been affected to you as a first step of your sincere repentance to God, your True Lord” and take up the Qur’an instead. As a scientist writing his PhD thesis when he was arrested April 22, 2013, they should trust him when he says they should read about the “scientific and mathematical miracles of the Holy Qur’an” as evidence of its supremacy.
Esseghaier then wrapped up his bizarre speech with a warning.
“The Judgment Day is sure to come and that’s why you have to prepare yourselves for that Great Day from now as you prepare yourselves before you travel to another country or to another continent.”
How Esseghaier reconciles that with his own Judgment Day, when he could face life in prison, is as unclear as his closing address.
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