Timing of terror arrests 'a mystery,' lawyer says
Published Tuesday, April 23, 2013 2:14PM EDT
The lawyer for one of the two men accused of plotting to derail a passenger train in Ontario questioned the timing of his client’s arrest, noting it came the same day MPs in Ottawa were debating an anti-terror bill and exactly one-week after the Boston Marathon bombings.
John Norris, lawyer for Raed Jaser, one of two men arrested Monday in connection with the alleged plot, said he would like to know why the suspects were picked up despite claims by the RCMP that an attack was not imminent.
“The timing of the arrest is a bit of a mystery and certainly I would like to hear the RCMP’s explanation for that,” Norris told reporters Tuesday after his client made a brief court appearance at Old City Hall in Toronto.
“They’ve been very clear that there was no risk to public safety and it’s surprising, to say the least, that this arrest would be made now, close on the heels of the events in Boston and timed perfectly with what was happening in the House of Commons yesterday. I don’t know what their purposes were, but the timing is notable, to say the least.”
Jaser, 35, of Toronto, and Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, of Montreal have been arrested and charged with a number of terror-related offences in connection with what the RCMP alleged was a plot to derail a train on a Toronto-area Via Rail route.
The charges include conspiracy to carry out an attack against, conspiring to interfere with transportation facilities and murdering persons for the benefit of a terrorist group.
Assistant RCMP Commissioner James Malizia told reporters Monday that the alleged plot was supported by “al Qaeda elements located in Iran,” but cautioned that evidence did not suggest it was state-sponsored.
Malizia also said that while investigators believed the suspects “had the capacity and intent to carry out these criminal acts, there was no imminent threat to the general public, rail employees, train passengers or infrastructure."
CTV’s Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife said Tuesday that, more than three weeks ago, security officials had tipped the media arrests were coming, but did not provide any details.
“I don’t think it was because they were worried about the media getting a hold of this story, because the media knew that the arrests were coming, but they didn’t have any inkling of what these arrests were going to be about,” Fife told CTV’s Canada AM.
“It may have been that the FBI, after seeing what happened in Boston, perhaps encouraged the Canadian government, ‘Why don’t we get this over with now.’ Or the other factor is that they may have simply exhausted all their leads, gotten all the information they could possibly get out of this, and decided to make the arrest.”
The arrests were the culmination of an eight-month investigation dubbed “Project Smooth,” which included the RCMP, the Canada Border Services Agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as local police forces in Ontario and Quebec.
The men were picked up on a day that MPs in Ottawa opened debate on Bill S-7, the Combatting Terrorism Act, which the federal government has had in the works for the past several months. The legislation includes provisions that make it an offence to leave the country to participate in acts of terror. It also grants police the powers to pre-emptively arrest someone and hold them for three days without charge, and allows for imprisonment for up to 12 months for refusing to testify before a judge in an investigative hearing.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said Monday that the arrests indicate that terrorism “continues to be a real threat to Canada,” and vowed that the federal government is committed to fighting terrorism and protecting Canadians from terrorist activity.
“Canada will not tolerate terrorist activity and we will not be used as a safe haven for terrorists or those who support terrorist activity,” Toews said in a statement.
“When terrorism offences occur it is important that they be prosecuted to the full extent of Canadian law. Our Government will continue to be vigilant and take the steps necessary to protect Canadians and their families, and our allies who share our common values.”
Toews did not answer reporters’ questions.
NDP MP Jack Harris said Monday he found it “a little bit odd” that the arrests occurred on the same day as debate over Bill S-7.
“Whether the timing of the announcement of the Mounties is predicated by that, I don’t know,” Harris told reporters on Parliament Hill when asked about the timing of the arrests. “I would certainly hope that the minister of public safety didn’t seek an announcement of this kind but I wouldn’t want to impugn the motives of the RCMP.”