Canada train plot suspects in court, will fight charges

An artist's sketch shows Chiheb Esseghaier making his first court appearance, in Montreal, April 23, 2013. REUTERS/Atalante
An artist’s sketch shows Chiheb Esseghaier making his first court appearance, in Montreal, April 23, 2013. REUTERS/Atalante

Two men charged with an alleged al Qaeda-backed plot to derail a Canadian passenger train made their first court appearances on Tuesday, and the lawyer for one said his client would fight the charges vigorously.

Raed Jaser of Toronto, 35, and Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, face charges that include conspiring “with each other to murder unknown persons for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a terrorist group.”

They were arrested on Monday in separate raids after what police said was an investigation that started in the middle of last year after a tip from a member of the Muslim community.

Officers detained Jaser at his home, a brick semi-detached house in a north Toronto neighborhood, and arrested Esseghaier at a McDonald’s restaurant in Montreal’s main train station.

U.S. officials said that the suspects were believed to have worked on a plan involving blowing up a trestle on the Canadian side of the border as the Maple Leaf, Amtrak’s daily connection between Toronto and New York, passed over it.

Canadian police said only that the plot involved a passenger train route in the Toronto area. They said there had been no immediate threat to rail passengers or to the public.

Jaser, dark and heavily bearded and wearing a black cap, arrived by police car at Toronto’s Old City Hall courthouse. He was kept in custody after a brief hearing. Media were barred from giving details of Jaser’s hearing under a publication ban requested by his lawyer.

“He denies the allegations and he will vigorously defend them,” the lawyer, John Norris, said outside the court, describing Jaser as being in a state of “shock and disbelief.”

Norris would not disclose Jaser’s nationality, saying that the publication ban precluded discussing his client’s personal circumstances. But he said Jaser has been a resident of Canada for 20 years.

DENYING THE CHARGES

Outside the courtroom, a middle-aged man and a woman in a cream-colored hijab identified themselves as members of Jaser’s family, but would not answer questions.

With them were two younger men, and two women in full black niqab face veils, who fled when confronted with a throng of reporters, photographers and television crews.

Esseghaier, a Tunisian-born doctoral student at a Montreal-area university, was flown to Toronto on Monday, but was quickly returned to Montreal to meet a legal requirement that he appear in a Quebec court within 24 hours of his arrest.

Bearded and bespectacled and wearing a shabby blue-and-black winter jacket, handcuffs and leg shackles, he told the judge there that conclusions had been drawn from facts and words “that are only appearances.”

He was remanded in custody, and federal prosecutor Richard Roy said he expected Esseghaier to be flown back to Toronto later on Tuesday for a court appearance there.

Esseghaier represented himself at the hearing, which was not covered by a publication ban.

Canadian authorities have linked the two to al Qaeda factions in Iran but say there is no indication that the attack plans, which police described as the first known al Qaeda-backed plot on Canadian soil, were state-sponsored.

“Had this plot been carried out, it would have resulted in innocent people being killed or seriously injured,” Royal Canadian Mounted Police official James Malizia said on Monday.

Police said they had been investigating the two since last fall after a tip from the Muslim community in Toronto.

DOCTORAL STUDENT

Little is known about Jaser but a spokeswoman for the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique near Montreal confirmed to Reuters that Esseghaier was a doctoral student at the research institute.

Iran had some senior al Qaeda figures under a form of house arrest in the years following the September 11, 2001, attacks, but there has been little to no evidence to date of joint attempts to execute violence against the West.

However, a U.S. government source said Iran is home to a little-known network of alleged al Qaeda fixers and “facilitators” based in the city of Zahedan, very close to Iran’s borders with both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Iran reacted angrily to being tied to the arrests. Canada last year severed diplomatic ties over what it said was Iran’s support for terrorist groups, as well as its nuclear programmed and its hostility towards Israel.

“No shred of evidence regarding those who’ve been arrested and stand accused has been provided,” Iranian Foreign Minister spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said, according to the Mehr news agency.

 



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

At 91, Marvel creator Stan Lee continues to…

By Piya Sinha-RoyLOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Marvel Entertainment's chief emeritus Stan Lee may be in his ninth decade, but it hasn't stopped him from adding…

National

Islamic State says beheads U.S. journalist, holds another

Islamic State insurgents released a video purportedly showing the beheading of U.S. journalist James Foley, who had gone missing in Syria nearly two years ago.

Local

VIDEO: NYPD seeks shooter in East New York…

Cops are on the lookout for an unknown shooter who aimed and missed hitting a man on a bicycle, instead nearly striking a nearby officer in East New York.

Local

NYS state forces thrift shops comply with ban…

Nine New York City thrift shops were reprimanded by the state attorney general for selling children's clothes with drawstrings around the neck and waist.

Movies

Review: The semi-good times don't last in the…

Despite the occasional blast of Iggy Pop and The Buzzcocks, the YA move "If I Stay" — with a near-dead Chloe Grace Moretz — soon turns maudlin.

Television

'Pretty Little Liars' recap: Season 5, Episode 11,…

Caleb's not a ghost. Spencer might still be an attempted murderer. And Hanna's going to die next week. In other words, we actually got some…

Movies

At 91, Marvel creator Stan Lee continues to…

Marvel Entertainment's Stan Lee is adding outposts to his creative empire to interest a new generation of children in super heroes of all shapes and sizes.

Television

Mira Sorvino explores immortality on 'Intruders'

Mira Sorvino's new show "Intruders" centers around a secret society that achieves immortality by taking over the bodies of other people.

MLB

Shane Greene travels unlikely road to Yankees stardom

Shane Greene was throwing a bullpen session on a quiet field at Daytona Beach Community College one day when the ball started moving.

NFL

2014 Fantasy Football: Rankings, list of top NFL…

2014 Fantasy Football: Rankings, list of top NFL tight ends (TE)

MLB

MLB Power Rankings: Angels supplant A's, Nationals climb

MLB Power Rankings: Angels supplant A's, Nationals climb

NFL

David Wilson returns to triple jump, sets sights…

Giants fans know David Wilson can jump. They are just more used to seeing him go for backflips, not distance.

Parenting

Barnes & Noble partners with Samsung to release…

Barnes & Noble releases the first full android tablet optimized for reading.

Style

11 timeless gifts for registries or just because

Gifts to prove you're a style maven once and for all.

Parenting

How everyday moments can inspire kids' creativity

"The Artist's Way for Parents" author Julia Cameron gives advice on how parents and children can be creative together.

Tech

How to stay safe online

Stop worrying about keeping your online passwords safe, and start worrying about keeping your username a secret. Actually, worry about both. According to Shaun Murphy…