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)
Canadian security forces arrest two and thwart terrorist plot to derail New York to Toronto trains at Niagara Falls with the help of al-Qaeda leaders in IRANPosted: April 22, 2013
Source: dailymail.co.uk (MICHAEL ZENNIE)
- Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, of Montreal, and Raed Jaser, 35, of Toronto, were arrested today
- Suspected received orders and got guidance from al-Qaeda leader in Iran
- Planned to target New York-bound trains in Toronto
- May have scouted targets in New York
Canadian security forces have thwarted an al-Qaeda-backed terrorist plot to derail a passenger train from New York City as it crossed the Niagara River, just a few miles from Niagara Falls.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police today arrested Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, of Montreal, and Raed Jaser, 35, of Toronto, who they say took orders and received guidance from al-Qaeda operatives in Iran.
Officials reportedly watched the men for more than a year and say the plot never got past the planning stages. Canadian counter-terrorism officials say the public was never in danger, the the men would have carried out the attack if they had not been stopped.
Neither of the men are Canadian citizens, but security officials wouldn’t say where they were from or why they were in the country.
A U.S. law enforcement source told Reuters the alleged plot was not linked with last week’s Boston Marathon bombings.
The two men allegedly planned to derail an Amtrak or Canadian Via train as it crossed over the Whirpool Rapids Bridge from the United States into Canada.
The historic arch bridge spans the Niagara River 225 feet above the water.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation said the operations was conducted with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the FBI.
A source told Reuters that the Amtrak Maple Leaf line, which runs from New York City to Toronto, was targeted. Canadian officials declined to confirm which trains were targeted.
‘Today’s arrests demonstrate that terrorism continues to be a real threat to Canada,’ Public Safety Minister Vic Toews told reporters in Ottawa.
‘Canada will not tolerate terrorist activity and we will not be used as a safe haven for terrorists or those who support terrorist activities.’
Perhaps the biggest surprise to come out of the announcement is that the orders were given by al-Qaeda leaders in Iran.
Iran, a Shi’a-majority country, is a strange ally for the fiercely Sunni Muslim terrorist group.
CNN reported last month that the few surviving members of Osama bin Laden‘s inner circle currently reside in Iran.
Some of bin Laden’s family are said to be under house arrest in Tehran. Others – including top advisers – live in the ski resort city of Chalus on the Caspian Sea.
Canadian authorities, though, were careful to make clear that this was not an instance of state-sponsored terrorism.
The arrests follow not only the Boston bombings but revelations that Canadians took part in an attack by militants on a gas plant in Algeria in January.
It also recalls the arrests in 2006 of a group of more than a dozen Toronto-area men accused of planning to plant bombs at various Canadian targets. Eleven men were eventually convicted of taking part on the plot.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2313125/Canada-terror-plot-Authorities-thwart-al-Qaeda-backed-attack-trains-Toronto.html#ixzz2RER6uFGB
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Source: torontosun.com(PATRICK MALONEY AND JENNIFER O’BRIEN, QMI AGENCY/With files from Reuters)
A CBC report Monday night cited unnamed sources in identifying two former South Secondary School students — Ali Medlej and Xristos Katsiroubas — as the Canadians whose bodies were found in the wreckage of the attack in Algeria in January.
QMI Agency attempts to speak with Katsiroubas’ relatives in London were unsuccessful late Monday, with one man refusing to answer the door and a woman shutting the door in a reporter’s face. “No thank you,” she said.
But the reported involvement of two London men sent shockwaves across the country, leaving the city at the centre of a stunning story of two Canadians implicated in the deaths of dozens.
About 70 people died when Algerian troops stormed the Tigantourine desert gas plant near the town of In Amenas to end the January hostage-taking. Algeria’s prime minister said at the time that a Canadian gunman had co-ordinated the operation.
The RCMP went to Algeria to investigate. An RCMP spokesperson last month told Reuters that two Canadians had been identified from the remains of the suspected attackers.
Monday, indications the attackers were from London had become a dramatic point of conversation across the city.
Former classmates were scouring their memories from South Secondary for any recollections of the pair — and there appeared to be few.
“He was totally forgettable,” one South alum, now 22, said of Katsiroubas, a Grade 10 and 11 classmate. “You know the cliche . . . a loner who kind of stayed to himself.”
The report cited another unnamed former classmate saying he recalls Katsiroubas moving toward Islam, and showing a growing interest in attending a mosque in London.
But a mosque spokesman said he had no recollection of the young men.
“I think the immediate reaction is ‘What? Here?’” London Muslim Mosque board member Wael Haddara said after contacting younger members of the community to ask if anyone had heard of the two men. “So far, nobody knows who these people are.
“I don’t know them and I think I know most of the younger people who come to the mosque by first-name basis,” he said.
Haddara said the mosque has not been contacted by police or CSIS about the situation, but said board members and staff would welcome any inquiries.
“It sounds funny, telling law-enforcement authorities through the newspaper that we are more than happy to talk to them, but we are,” he said.