Canada terror suspect denies charges

2013-04-24 21:09
Representatives of Toronto's Islamic community attend a news conference in Toronto as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police announce the arrest of two men accused of plotting a terror attack on rail target. (The Canadian Press, AP)

Representatives of Toronto's Islamic community attend a news conference in Toronto as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police announce the arrest of two men accused of plotting a terror attack on rail target. (The Canadian Press, AP)

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Toronto - A man accused of plotting with al-Qaeda members in Iran to derail a train in Canada gave a rambling statement in a Toronto court on Wednesday and appeared to be saying he does not recognising its jurisdiction.

Law enforcement officials in the US said the target was a train that runs between New York City and Canada.

Canadian investigators say Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, and Raed Jaser, 35, received guidance from members of al-Qaeda in Iran.

Iranian government officials have said the government had nothing to do with the plot.

"My comment is the following because all of those conclusions were taken out based on criminal code and all of us know that this criminal code is not a holy book," Esseghaier said at the hearing on Wednesday. "We cannot rely on the conclusions taken out from these judgments."

The judge told him to "save that for another court," and take the advice of his lawyers. He was given a 23 May court.

Charges against the two men in Canada include conspiring to carry out an attack and murder people in association with a terrorist group.

Police - tipped off by an imam worried by the behaviour of one of the suspects — said it was the first known attack planned by al-Qaeda in Canada. The two could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted.

Accused appears

In a brief court appearance in Montreal on Tuesday, Esseghaier declined to be represented by a court-appointed lawyer.

He made a brief statement in French in which he rejected the allegations against him.

Esseghaier, who was arrested on Monday afternoon at a McDonald's restaurant in the train station, was later flown to Toronto for Wednesday's appearance in the city where his trial will take place.

Jaser also appeared in court on Tuesday in Toronto and also did not enter a plea.

He was given a new court date of 23 May.

The court granted a request by his lawyer, John Norris, for a publication ban on future evidence and testimony.

The case has raised questions about the extent of Shi’ite-led Iran's relationship with al-Qaeda, a predominantly Sunni Arab terrorist network.

It also renewed attention on Iran's complicated history with the terror group, which ranges from outright hostility to alliances of convenience and even overtures by Tehran to assist Washington after the 11 September 2001, attacks on the United States.

Ongoing investigation

Law officials in New York with knowledge of the investigation told AP the attack was to take place on the Canadian side of the border.

They are not authorised to discuss the investigation and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

Amtrak and Via Rail Canada jointly operate routes between the US and Canada, including the Maple Leaf from New York City to Toronto.

Jaser's lawyer said on Tuesday that his client questioned the timing of the arrests, pointing to ongoing debates in the Canadian Parliament over a new anti-terrorism law that would expand the powers of police and intelligence agencies.

Norris speaking outside the court said his client is "in a state of shock and disbelief”.

He said his client would "defend himself vigorously" against the accusations, and noted Jaser was a permanent resident of Canada who has lived there for 20 years.

Norris refused to say where Jaser was from, saying that revealing his nationality in the current climate amounted to demonising him.

Canadian police also declined to release the men's nationalities, saying only they had been in Canada a "significant amount of time”.

Muslim community leaders who were briefed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police ahead of Monday's announcement of the arrest said they were told one of the suspects is Tunisian and the other from the United Arab Emirates.

But the United Arab Emirates embassy in Ottawa said in a statement on Tuesday that neither of the two men were UAE nationals.

Reports on the suspect

The London-based newspaper Al Arab reported on Wednesday, citing unnamed sources in the Gulf, that Jaser is a Jordanian passport holder with full name Raed Jaser Ibrahim Amouri, who had visited the UAE several times and most recently in September 2011.

The newspaper reported that the suspect also visited other Gulf countries including Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

It was not possible to independently confirm the report.

Esseghaier's LinkedIn profile lists him as having studied in Tunisia before moving to Canada, where he was pursuing a PhD in nanotechnology at the National Institute of Scientific Research, a spokesperson at the training university confirmed.

His profile on a university department website - which has since been removed - says he was born in Tunis, Tunisia.

The investigation surrounding the planned attack was part of a cross-border operation involving Canadian law enforcement agencies, the FBI and the US department of homeland security.

Canadian police said the men never got close to carrying out the attack.

The warning first came from an imam in Toronto, who in turn was tipped off by suspicious behaviour on the part of one of the suspect.

- AP
Read more on:    al-qaeda  |  fbi  |  us  |  canada  |  iran  |  uae  |  security
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