At least two other suspects in terror plot: sources
Published Tuesday, April 23, 2013 6:05AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, April 23, 2013 10:48PM EDT
An alleged terror plot to derail a passenger train on a Via Rail track involved two suspects in Canada and at least two others in the New York area who have been under FBI surveillance, CTV News has learned.
Insiders say the alleged U.S. suspects do not pose an imminent threat and no one has been arrested there.
The men who were arrested in Canada on Monday made brief court appearances in Toronto and Montreal on Tuesday.
Toronto-area resident Raed Jaser, 35, and 30-year-old Montreal resident Chiheb Esseghaier are accused by the RCMP of taking part in a plot supported by al Qaeda elements in Iran – which would be the first of its kind in Canada.
They allegedly planned to attack a passenger train on the busy Via Rail route linking Toronto and New York City, CTV was told. The RCMP would not confirm the targeted train’s route or direction, but authorities said it’s believed the alleged plot had the potential to harm Canadians.
Still, the RCMP has said there was no imminent threat to the public.
Both Jaser and Esseghaier face charges of conspiracy to commit murder, participating in a terrorist organization and conspiracy to interfere with transportation facilities. In addition, Esseghaier is charged with one count of having directed a person to carry out a terrorist activity.
Jaser’s lawyer, John Norris, said outside court that his client maintains his innocence and “plans to defend himself vigorously” against the charges.
"He's in a state of shock and disbelief, he's anxious to see the evidence against him and we'll move forward in that way," Norris told reporters on the steps outside Old City Hall court.
Esseghaier, who was originally flown to Toronto but then returned to Quebec to face a Montreal judge, chose not to be represented by a lawyer.
CTV News has learned that the Mounties and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service have been watching Esseghaier for almost two years before the official investigation began in August 2012.
Sources say Esseghaier caused a disturbance on an Air Canada flight to Cancun last year with what was described as bizarre behaviour in the bathroom.
Both Esseghaier and Jaser were remanded to custody until their next court dates. Jaser will appear in Toronto on May 23, while Esseghaier is expected to be returned to Toronto court on Wednesday.
Tuesday’s court appearances came the day after Assistant RCMP Commissioner James Malizia said the suspects' alleged plot was supported by "al Qaeda elements located in Iran" in the form of "direction and guidance," but added there "is no information to indicate that these attacks were state-sponsored."
According to the RCMP, the plot is the first in Canada to be directly influenced by al Qaeda operatives in Iran.
While there have been reports the suspects are from Tunisia and UAE, the RCMP only said Monday that neither is a Canadian citizen.
Norris lashed out at the RCMP for focusing on his client's citizenship status, saying Jaser is a permanent resident of Canada and has lived here for 20 years, where he is married and has a large support network. Focusing on his status as a foreign-born resident had the effect of "demonizing" his client, Norris said.
He cautioned Canadians against jumping to conclusions.
"What the public should wait for is the evidence, not a press conference. Simply saying something in a press conference by the police does not make it true," Norris said.
Several of Jaser’s family members were in court Tuesday, including people who identified themselves as his mother, wife and brother.
His father, Mohammed Jaser, told reporters he supports his son.
It isn't clear what link, if any, the men have to Iran. On Tuesday, Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ramin Mehmanparast told reporters that Iran had no connection to the suspects.
With a report from CTV’s Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife