Terror case suspects: One travelled to Iran, the other fought deportation
One of the two men accused of plotting to derail a Via Rail train under guidance from al Qaeda has travelled to Iran, CTV News has learned, while the other man fought deportation from Canada.
Sources report that Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, of Montreal, travelled to Iran within the past two years. The PhD student is also reported to have received terrorist training.
His alleged accomplice, Toronto-area resident Raed Jaser, 35, was almost deported from Canada in 2004 because of fraud convictions. But because he was listed as a stateless Palestinian, Canadian authorities had nowhere to send him.
Tunisian-born Esseghaier and Jaser are accused of planning to attack a passenger train on the busy Via Rail route linking Toronto and New York City. Both 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.
RCMP alleged Monday that the two men received "guidance" from al Qaeda in Iran, but maintained the plot was not state-sponsored.
Esseghaier’s father, Mohammed, told reporters Thursday his son is innocent.
"My son would never do this,” he said from his home in Tunisia. “He’s never followed those doctrines. To kill people, it’s impossible.”
More details also emerged Thursday about Jaser’s background.
He came to Canada with his parents and two brothers in 1993 with fake French passports. The family said claimed they had faced persecution in Germany, where they had also sought asylum.
"Ultimately we were forced to flee in fear of our lives as a Molotov Cocktail was thrown into our home while all of us were present," his father Mohammed Jaser said in his personal statement to the refugee board.
The board rejected the family's application for asylum, noting Mohammed had remained in Germany for a year after the firebombing incident.
The request for asylum in Canada was denied, but most of the family members ended up staying in the country and obtaining citizenship.
Although Jaser was born in the United Arab Emirates, he was listed as a stateless Palestinian in his refugee application. His father told Canadian authorities that he was forced to leave the area when the state of Israel was established.
Jaser, however, could not become a Canadian citizen because of his criminal record. In addition to fraud convictions, Jaser was convicted of uttering threats. He received a federal pardon in 2009, CTV News has learned.
Jaser later turned to radical Islam and was put on the U.S. State Department’s counter-terrorism watch list.
Philip Mudd, former FBI national security deputy director and director of global risk at SouthernSun Asset Management in Memphis, Tenn., told CTV News that the alleged terror plot would have carried a great deal of significance for al Qaeda.
“If you look at the history of al Qaeda operations, passenger trains are viewed by al Qaeda not only as simpler targets than aircraft, but also iconic,” he said. “That is, if you see a train hit today, you’re going to remember Madrid in 2006…London in 2005.”
Mudd noted that al Qaeda is also interested in the economic impact of its attacks, not just death tolls.
Insiders tell CTV that Mounties are tracking other suspects in Canada and more arrests are likely here and in the United States.
With a report from CTV’s Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife and files from The Canadian Press