TORONTO — A man accused of plotting to derail a train in Canada with support from al-Qaida asked Thursday to be represented by a defense attorney willing to use the "holy book" as a reference in his case.
At a previous hearing, Tunisian-born Chiheb Esseghaier declined court-appointed legal representation and rejected the allegations against him. He said he did not recognize the court's authority, saying Canada's criminal code is "not a holy book."
"I have one point. I have agreed to have a lawyer, no problem, but I wish that this lawyer will cooperate with me. I need the holy book as a reference. I don't want a book written by humans," Esseghaier said via video link.
The justice of the peace told Esseghaier he would have to discuss his need to use the Quran with his lawyer once one has been assigned.
The 30-year-old was arrested last month along with suspected accomplice Raed Jaser in connection with a plot to derail a Via passenger train running between New York City and Montreal. Investigators say the men received guidance from members of al-Qaida in Iran. Iranian government officials denied having anything to do with the plot.
Police – tipped off by an imam worried by the behavior of one of the suspects – said it was the first known attack planned by al-Qaida in Canada. The two, who are charged with conspiring to carry out an attack and murder people in association with a terrorist group, could face life in prison if convicted.
Esseghaier, who was living in Montreal at the time of his arrest, has not entered a plea and is scheduled to return to court on June 3.
Jaser, 35, who was born in the United Arab Emirates to Palestinian parents but is not an UAE citizen, was living in Toronto at the time of his arrest.
He also appeared briefly via video link Thursday, saying only that he wished to speak with his lawyer. Both men donned orange prison suits and sported beards. Jaser was scheduled to for another court appearance on June 25.
Brydie Bethell, co-counsel for Jaser, said Thursday that her client denies all charges against him and that they are working on a bail application for Jaser.
A few weeks after Esseghaier and Jaser were arrested, FBI officials arrested Tunisian man in New York who they said was linked to the Via rail terror plot.
Ahmed Abassi was charged with trying to stay in the United States illegally to build a cell for international acts of terror.
Prosecutors, in a letter submitted to a U.S. District Court judge in Manhattan, said Abassi had radicalized Esseghaier.
The indictment charges Abassi with two counts of lying on applications for a green card and work visa. Each count carries a maximum term of 25 years in prison upon conviction. His lawyer Sabrina Shroff said Abassi denies the accusations in the indictment.