April 23, 2013

2 men accused in Canada terror plot appear in court

By Benjamin Shingler and Rob Gillies / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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Mohammed Jaser, father of Raed Jaser, leaves court in Toronto on Tuesday. Raed Jaser is accused with another man of plotting to derail a train in Canada with support from al-Qaida elements in Iran.

AP

Norris, Jaser's lawyer, said his client would "defend himself vigorously" against the accusations, and noted his client was a permanent resident of Canada who has lived there for 20 years. He refused to say where Jaser was from, saying that revealing his nationality in the current climate amounted to demonizing him.

The investigation surrounding the planned attack was part of a cross-border operation involving Canadian law enforcement agencies, the FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Canadian police said the men never got close to carrying out the attack.

RCMP chief superintendent Jennifer Strachan said Monday that Jaser and Esseghaier were targeting a route, but did not say whether it was a cross border route.

In New York, NYPD spokesman Paul Browne declined to discuss reports that the plot targeted a passenger line between New York City and Canada. However, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Tuesday that Canada has kept New York posted on the investigation.

"I can just tell you that you are probably safer in New York City than you are in any other big city," Bloomberg told reporters Tuesday without discussing details.

Police in Canada said Jaser and Esseghaier had been under investigation since last fall.

Muhammad Robert Heft, who runs an outreach organization for Islamic converts, and Hussein Hamdani, a lawyer and longtime advocate in the Muslim community, said one of the suspects is Tunisian and the other is from the United Arab Emirates. Heft and Hamdani were part of a group of Muslim community leaders who were briefed by the RCMP ahead of Monday's announcement.

In Abu Dhabi, a UAE source informed about the attack plot said there was "no UAE citizen" with the name Raed Jaser. The source spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief media.

Authorities were tipped off by members of the Muslim community, Best said

Toronto lawyer Naseer Syed said a Toronto imam tipped off police. Syed would not say what, exactly him off. He said he was speaking for the imam, who wished to remain anonymous. 

"I was involved in alerting police about the suspect. I made some calls on behalf of the imam over a year ago," he said from his Toronto office. "The Muslim community has been cooperating with authorities for a number of years and people do the right thing when there is reason to alert authorities."

A spokeswoman for the University of Sherbrooke near Montreal said Esseghaier studied there in 2008-2009. More recently, he has been doing doctoral research at the National Institute of Scientific Research, a spokeswoman at the training university confirmed.

Julie Martineau, a spokeswoman at the research institute, said Esseghaier began working at the center just outside Montreal in 2010 and was pursuing a Ph.D. in nanotechnology.

A LinkedIn page showing a man with Esseghaier's name and academic background said he helped author a number of biology research papers, including on HIV and cancer detection. The page says he was a student in Tunisia before moving to Canada in the summer of 2008.

The page carries a photo of a black flag inscribed with the Muslim declaration of faith: "There is no god but God and Muhammad is his prophet." The same flag was used by al-Qaida in Iraq and then started being used by ultraconservative Islamic groups in Egypt, Tunisia, Mali and elsewhere across the region.

In Markham, Ontario, north of Toronto, police tape cordoned off half of a duplex, with officers remaining at the scene well into Monday night. Sanjay Chaudhary, who lives in the other half of the duplex with his family, said the RCMP questioned him about his neighbor Jaser, asking whether he knew him or spoke to him often.

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