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Man Convicted in Terror Plot in Canada Is 'Delusional,' Doctor Testifies

Chiheb Esseghaier was convicted earlier this year alongside Raed Jaser of conspiracy to commit murder and other related terrorism charges in one of the most high-profile terror cases in Canada.

by Sierra Bein
Jul 16 2015, 4:05am

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

The mental state of a man convicted of plotting to derail a passenger train from Toronto to New York continued to transfix a courtroom on Wednesday, with a psychiatrist arguing that he is probably unfit to participate in his sentencing hearing.

Chiheb Esseghaier, who has rejected the help of a defense lawyer, was convicted earlier this year alongside Raed Jaser of conspiracy to commit murder, and other related terrorism charges, in one of the most high profile terror cases in Canada.

The case revolved around testimony from an undercover FBI agent, who posed as a wealthy Egyptian-American real estate developer and secretly recorded 25 hours of conversation with the conspirators. They were heard discussing an alleged plot to derail a Via Rail train, and other potential attacks in retaliation for Canadian military actions in Muslim countries.

On Wednesday, the forensic psychiatrist ordered by the court to conduct an assessment of the 32-year-old Esseghaier testified that she would likely diagnose him with schizophrenia due to his "delusional beliefs."

"At this juncture he does not integrate the information in a way that would really allow him to understand…the court process," Dr. Lisa Ramshaw told a Toronto courtroom, one day after Esseghaier had to be removed from the proceedings after he lay down in the prisoner's box in protest of the psychiatrist's so-called "lies".

The erratic behaviour continued on Wednesday, with Esseghaier, a Tunisian-born scientist who had been living in Montreal, repeatedly pointing at the judge and explaining in a raised voice that he knows what will happen to him when he dies.

Apparently confused by the date, Esseghaier told the court he believes he will die aboard a Tunisian-bound plane on Dec. 24, 2014, a conclusion he reached based on the Quran, and that "God will rise my soul to the heaven when I am inside that plane." He said his mother's death will follow shortly afterwards. 

"I know more than what I told you," he said. "I know the circumstances of my death."

Ramshaw said that although Esseghaier submitted to an assessment, "he indicated it was to save me from hell and to understand the real ways of Islam."

He doesn't believe he is in court as a criminal, but rather a "visitor" sent to instruct others on the "true ways of Islam," Ramshaw has testified.

"In God's eyes I am not a criminal, but you will treat me as a criminal," Esseghaier said.

Earlier this week, the court heard from San Francisco-based psychologist Dr. Jess Ghannam, who assessed Jaser and found him to be a man who was "broken psychologically" but who did not harbor radical Islamic ideology. Rather, the 37-year-old was motivated by a drug addiction, the doctor said, an assertion that was challenged by the Crown prosecutor.

On Wednesday, Nabil Jaser testified that his brother had always been protective of his siblings.

After Jaser broke up with his long-time girlfriend, he changed. "He started to drink a lot more, he used to smoke up a lot more—marijuana, you could see that he was very depressed," Nabil said.

Soon-after, Jaser married a woman his brother said was problematic in their family because of her unacceptable behavior toward their parents, and because she drank and smoked with him.

She had an abortion, which Nabil suspected may have led his brother to believe he was going to be punished by God.

"He went from not praying at all to praying five times a day, he would read the Quran everyday," he said. "We knew whenever he was at my parents' house [the discussion] would be religion, or he was upset."

But Nabil insisted his brother is incapable of killing anyone. He told the court that when they were younger, the two would catch mice in the house and let them go in a nearby field.

"I'm very disappointed. I'm angry with him, just very angry," he said. "I do love him. I know who he is, I know it's cliché to say."

Follow Sierra Bein on Twitter: @sierrabein