Terror plot suspect in court: Criminal Code is not 'the holy book'
One of the two men accused of plotting to derail a Via Rail train under guidance from al Qaeda in Iran told a Toronto court Wednesday that he rejects the charges against him because "the Criminal Code is not the holy book."
During a brief court appearance at Toronto's Old City Hall, Chiheb Esseghaier was permitted by the justice of the peace to make a statement, but was advised to "be careful what you say" because his statement could be used in future proceedings.
"The Criminal Code is not the holy book," Esseghaier told the court. "It's just written by a set of creations and the creations they're not perfect, only the creator is perfect."
The justice of the peace then ordered that Esseghaier remain in custody and not have any contact with his co-accused, Raed Jaser. The next court appearance for both men has been set for May 23.
CTV News has learned that the RCMP is investigating other suspects in Canada and more arrests are possible.
CTV has previously reported that the alleged plot also involved at least two suspects in the New York area who have been under FBI surveillance. Sources told CTV's Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife that the alleged U.S. suspects do not pose an imminent threat and no one has been arrested there.
After Jaser made a brief court appearance on Tuesday, his lawyer, John Norris, said his client maintains his innocence and "plans to defend himself vigorously" against the charges.
While a publication ban prohibits reporting details of what happened during Jaser’s Tuesday court appearance, no such ban was requested for Esseghaier’s appearance on Wednesday.
Esseghaier, 30, and Jaser, 35, are accused by the RCMP of plotting to derail a passenger train on a Via Rail route in the Greater Toronto Area. While the RCMP have not confirmed reports the target was a train travelling between Toronto and New York City, investigators said that, had the plot been carried out, it had the potential to injure and kill Canadians.
RCMP said at a news conference announcing the arrests on Monday, that while they believe the accused had the capacity to carry out the plan, there was no imminent threat to the public.
Both Jaser, a Toronto-area resident, and Esseghaier, a PhD student from Montreal, 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.
Sources have told CTV that the Mounties and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service had Esseghaier under surveillance for nearly two years before their investigation of the alleged plot got underway in August 2012.
Sources said that Esseghaier caused a disturbance on an Air Canada flight to Cancun last year, with what was described as bizarre behaviour in the bathroom.
RCMP alleged Monday that the two men received "guidance" from al Qaeda in Iran, but maintained the plot was not state-sponsored. Authorities in Iran have denied any connection to that country.
With files from CTV’s Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife and CTV Toronto's Tamara Cherry