A passenger jet with 200 people on board is forced to take evasive action as it is targeted by two missiles, says Russian media.
Two missiles have been fired at a Russian passenger plane flying over Syria, according to Russian media.
About 160 people were on board the charter aircraft at the time of the attack, the origin of which remains unknown, a source told the Interfax news agency.
An unnamed source is understood to have said: “Syrian [officials] informed us that on Monday morning, unidentified forces launched two ground-to-air missiles which exploded in the air very close to a civilian aircraft belonging to a Russian airline.”
The source said the pilots managed to manoeuvre but it was only because they did so that lives were saved.
The source added: “It remains unclear whether the attackers knew whether it was Russian or not.”
The targeted plane belonged to Nordwind Airlines – a Russian charter air carrier.
Russia’s Agency For Tourism later confirmed an incident had taken place, saying: “No one was injured, and the plane was not damaged. The aircraft landed in Kazan as it had been planned.”
Russia’s foreign ministry later issued a statement about the incident.
A spokesman said: “On April 29, at 0455 moscow, a Northern Wind plane was travelling in Syrian airspace from Sharm el Sheikh to Kazan and the pilot crew has recorded military activities on the ground that could have endangered the plane and 159 passengers.
“The Russian authorities are taking urgent measures to clarify the situation including in contact with Syrian authorities.”
The Syrian regime is battling a diverse range of opposition fighters, with some following an ideology akin to that shared by al Qaeda, and others supported by western allies who are seeking to achieve democracy.
Source: yahoo.ca( Matthew Coutts)
Four days after two Canadian residents were arrested in connection to an alleged terrorist plot to derail a train on Canadian soil, disturbing details of their checkered pasts continue to be revealed – including revelations that Canada tried to deport one of the men nine years ago.
Raed Jaser and Chiheb Esseghaier were arrested on Monday and have made primary court appearances, but remain in custody.
Esseghaier told a judge on Wednesday that Canada’s criminal code was not a “holy book” and therefore not perfect.
Sources told the Toronto Star that Esseghaier met with an al-Qaeda operative before moving to Canada in 2009, under a student visa. Jaser, meantime, has been living in Canada for 20 years after his family moved here as refugees.
Jaser is a Palestinian who was born in the United Arab Emirates and never received citizenship in that country. He and his family were considered “stateless,” and moved first to Germany and later Canada, where they sought refugee status.
Jaser was arrested in 2004 for allegedly working illegally under various aliases, but could not be deported because he belonged to no country.
“I am not a citizen of the United Arab Emirates, I can’t be,” the Post quotes him as telling the Immigration and Refugee Board in 2004, based on a transcript. “I am a Palestinian by blood, that does not give me any rights whatsoever in my place of birth.”
Palestinians represent the largest stateless community in the world: more than half of the eight million or so Palestinians are considered to be de jure stateless persons. Partly because they are stateless, Palestinian refugees are treated more harshly than other refugees. For example, Palestinians recently forced out of Iraq have not been admitted into Syria but instead are trapped in dangerous and desolate camps on the border. Despite a special appeal by the United Nations, few countries have stepped forward to offer them resettlement.
The Post’s report suggests Jaser had remained in a state of “long-term limbo” until he received permanent citizenship. He was denied citizenship based in part on a criminal history.
This of course says nothing about the guilt or innocence of either suspect. Just more bizarre details in an increasingly bizarre story.
Source: news.nationalpost.com(TRISTIN HOPPER)
National Post, with files from Graeme Hamilton and Joseph Brean
Before Chiheb Esseghaier became one of two suspects in a plot to bomb a VIA Rail passenger train, the doctoral student was known to the tenants in a Montreal apartment building as a neighbour from hell, according to a report by La Presse.
“He would scream like a maniac at all hours,” remembered a man identified only as Michel, who lived in the same 20-unit Rosemont complex. “Near the end, I couldn’t take it anymore.”
Mr. Esseghaier’s Kijiji-recruited roommates appeared to concur. According to the building’s concierge, “hygiene issues” at one point forced one of them to leave in a huff, slamming the door on his way out.
The concierge added Mr. Esseghaier was a “very religious man, very devout.”
Others simply remembered him for his penchant to endanger the building with fire.
One time, he set off the smoke alarm after cranking up all four of his stove-top elements to dry a shirt. Another time, he moved his charcoal barbecue inside, alleging it was too windy outside.
“He lit briquettes. There were flames,” a tenant told the newspaper.
Tunisian-born and only recently granted permanent residency status in Canada, Mr. Esseghaier remains officially registered as a doctoral student at the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS), a research arm of the Université du Québec.
His erratic tenancy record is part of why, when officers finally arrested Mr. Esseghaier Monday, he was effectively homeless.
La Presse writer Fabrice de Pierrebourg compared Mr. Esseghaier to the main character in the 1985 French film Subway. In the movie, Fred, a gangster, evades police by taking refugee in the murky depths of the Paris Métro.
Wearing a substantial length of beard and dressed in a faded ski jacket, he offered no resistance as four Mounties led him away.
The whole affair was “very calm,” said a witness.
Judge says veil would obscure ability to assess woman’s demeanour
Source: CBC News
An Ontario judge ruled today that a woman accusing two family members of molesting her as a child must remove her face veil during testimony. (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters)
Justice Norris Weisman announced his decision after applying a new testset out by the Supreme Court of Canada dealing with witnesses wearing a veil. The woman at the centre of the case is known only as N.S.
“I conclude that to permit N.S. to testify at the preliminary inquiry with her face obscured by the niqab will impair defence counsels’ ability to assess her demeanour, as well as the [judge’s] ability to assess her credibility,” Weisman said.
The woman has been fighting for six years for the right to wear her niqab during the trial of her uncle and cousin, who are accused of sexually assaulting her when she was a child in the 1980s.
Weisman had first ruled in 2008 that N.S. must remove her niqab during testimony. That decision was appealed all the way up to Supreme Court.
The test set out by Canada’s top court in December includes four issues a judge must consider, including: the potential witness’s depth of religious belief, and whether the veil could lessen the fairness of the trial.
The preliminary hearing for the two relatives accused of sexually abusing the woman is scheduled to begin next week, but her lawyer said the ruling on the niqab will be appealed.
About to turn 75, Judge Weisman is set to retire on May 1.
Militant Islamist group remains an inspiration to many would-be extremists
Source: CBC News(Andre Mayer)
“I would say its influence now is as great or greater than it’s ever been, though more in an indirect sense,” says Lorne Dawson, co-director of the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society.
Dawson says that one of the achievements of the group behind the Sept. 11 attacks was inspiring like-minded organizations and setting “an example to all these groups around the world on how to reach out and communicate” to would-be extremists.
Part of its indirect influence has been to inspire “self-appointed jihadis” who take it upon themselves to seek out people willing to carry out attacks, and then pass these individuals up the line for further training by someone else.
The alleged train attack plot “appears to be a manifestation of what [Osama] bin Laden advised the world some years ago — namely, that there are a handful of countries that he had wanted struck,” said David Harris, an Ottawa-based lawyer and director of Insignis Strategic Research.
“Canada was among them, and Canada remains the only one of the lot yet to be hit on the scale that al-Qaeda has desired,” he added.
On Monday, RCMP charged Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, of Montreal, and Raed Jaser, 35, of Toronto, with conspiracy to carry out a terrorist attack and “conspiring to murder persons unknown for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a terrorist group.”
U.S. law enforcement and national security sources told Reuters that these individuals were targeting a rail line between Toronto and New York.
RCMP Assistant Commissioner James Malizia said the two accused were getting “direction and guidance” from al-Qaeda elements in Iran.
The evolution of al-Qaeda
Since the details of the plot were revealed on Monday, many commentators have remarked on how unusual it is that al-Qaeda, a Sunni Muslim organization formed by Osama bin Laden, would have a presence in Iran, a country made up largely of Shia Muslims.
Canadian security expert Wesley Wark says the notion of al-Qaeda as a centralized command structure that authorizes and carries out attacks in Western countries is “a thing of the past.”
He says that even before bin Laden’s death in 2011, the group had splintered off into localized factions, such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb or al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, that were more focused on insurgencies in countries such as Mali or Yemen.
“From my perspective, I don’t think al-Qaeda affiliates are likely to target Canada. I think their operations will be primarily on regional environments,” says Wark.
What’s fuelling prospective Muslim radicals in Canada, he says, is the “al-Qaeda narrative” — namely, the legacy and inspiration of bin Laden.
In 2004, Momin Khawaja became the first Canadian charged under Canada’s Anti-terrorism Act.(Tom Hanson/Canadian Press)
Wark says this narrative had a great influence on the Toronto 18, a group that attempted to create an al-Qaeda-type cell in Toronto and carry out attacks on Canadian landmarks; as well as on Mohmin Khawaja, the Canadian-born computer programmer who was convicted in 2008 of financing and facilitating terrorist activities in London.
Dawson, who is based in the department of sociology and legal studies at the University of Waterloo, has looked at case studies of extremists and heard from many experts in the field of radicalization.
He says that in the absence of a top-down recruitment drive, the self-appointed jihadis inspired by al-Qaeda often become “middlemen,” taking it upon themselves to seek out people willing to carry out attacks.
These middlemen “are pretty adept at using the internet, they’ve had conversations in chat forums and they become sort of entrepreneurs,” says Dawson.
“They’re the ones that get in contact with younger people. Conversations are had, and they discover whether they’re dealing with a young person somewhere and whether their commitment [to the cause] is sincere. ”
Once the middleman is convinced the recruit is serious, Dawson says it could lead to a “referral” to a more senior operative who could provide the young radical with training and guidance.
The radicalization problem
Jabeur Fathally, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, believes this country’s experiences with radicalization can be partly attributed to the fallout of the Arab Spring, as well as Canada’s generous immigration policies.
Under such former authoritarian leaders as Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Moammar Gadhafi in Libya, for example, people that these regimes deemed radical Muslims were often persecuted and denied passports.
But since the overthrow of such strongmen, many Islamist parties have come to power in the Middle East, and have encouraged many of their previously persecuted citizens to study, work or otherwise do business in immigrant-friendly countries such as Canada.
While not all of them are radicals, Fathally says that at least some have sympathies with more hardline, Islamist thought.
“These people can fly easily, they can go to Turkey, they can move easily to Europe, and they can come easily to Canada,” says Fathally.
However, despite the recent media coverage of al-Qaeda-inspired plots in Canada, Wark doesn’t believe that these individuals pose the same existential threat that bin Laden’s group did in its heyday.
“I think they are a lesser threat than an organized, professional, trained network of the kind that al-Qaeda once was,” he says.
“It’s a challenge to uncover them, but the danger that they present is of a smaller degree.”
By Allison Martell and Randall Palmer
TORONTO/MONTREAL (Reuters) – 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, 35, of Toronto and Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, of Montrealface 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 a joint Canada-U.S. 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 semi-detached house in a north Toronto neighborhood, and arrested Esseghaier at a McDonald’s restaurant at Montreal’s main train station.
Canadian police said the plot involved a passenger train route in the Toronto area, and that there had been no immediate threat to rail passengers or to the public.
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.
They said investigators on both sides of the border were trying to establish if the suspects had associates in the United States, especially in New York City. One source said Esseghaier, in particular, was believed to have made several trips to the United States. CBC Television said Canadian police had tracked him for a year, including on a visit to a conference in Mexico.
Jaser, heavily bearded and wearing a black cap, was remanded in custody after a brief hearing in Toronto. 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,” said the lawyer, John Norris, who has represented Canadian Guantanamo detainee Omar Khadr, as well as Asad Ansari, one of a group of Toronto-area men charged in 2006 with planning attacks on Canadian targets.
Norris would not disclose Jaser’s nationality, saying the publication ban precluded discussing Jaser’s personal circumstances. He said Jaser has been a resident of Canada for 20 years.
Norris questioned the timing of the arrests, given a statement by police that the suspects posed no imminent threat. He noted that the arrest coincided with debate in Canada over a vote that would revive parts of the anti-terrorism act, which is supported by the Conservative government.
“The timing of the arrest is a bit of a mystery,” he said.
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.
Neighbors of Jaser told Reuters that he mostly kept to himself and attended a Masjid al-Faisal, a mosque in a refashioned house a short walk from his home.
“He was a normal attendee. If he’s coming he says ‘salaam’ to us and we say ‘salaam’ to him. Nothing more special, nothing more unusual, nothing more abnormal,” said Rana Khan, a congregant at the mosque. His alleged involvement in a plot was “a very, very shocking news for all of us over here.”
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.”
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.
At the hearing 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 men to al Qaeda factions in Iran. But they said there was no indication of Iranian state-sponsorship of the plan, which police described as the first known al Qaeda-backed plot on Canadian soil.
DEATHS OR INJURIES FORESEEN
“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.
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.
(Additional reporting by Alastair Sharp and Mark Hosenball; Writing by Cameron French; Editing by Janet Guttsman and David Storey)
(This story is refiled to exclude ‘with each other’ from quotation marks in second paragraph)