Suspect in Alleged Train Terror Plot Denied Bail
(CNN) — One of two men accused of planning to carry out an al Qaeda-supported attack against a passenger train traveling between Canada and the United States was denied bail Tuesday.
Asked if he understood the proceeding, which was held in English, 35-year-old Raed Jaser of Toronto said, “It’s very clear.” He waived the reading of charges and will continue to be held in a Canadian federal facility.
“He is in a state of shock and disbelief,” Jaser’s lawyer, John Norris, told reporters outside the courthouse after the bond hearing. “He is anxious to see the evidence that the crown says that it has against him and we will move forward in that way.”
The decision by Justice of the Peace Susan Hilton came during the first court appearance, in Toronto’s Old City Hall Court, a day after the Royal Canadian Mounted Police announced the arrests.
A separate hearing is to be held Wednesday for Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, of Montreal.
The men face charges of conspiring “to murder persons unknown … for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a terrorist group,” according to the charging documents.
Assistant Police Commissioner James Malizia said the men are accused of “receiving support from al Qaeda elements in Iran” to carry out an attack and conspiring to murder people on a VIA railway train in the greater Toronto area.
“When I speak about supported, I mean direction and guidance,” he said.
There was no evidence to suggest the planned attacks were state-sponsored, Malizia said.
Iran denied that al Qaeda was operating within its borders.
“Iran’s position against this group is very clear and well known,” Iran’s mission to the United Nations said in a statement.
“Al Qaeda has no possibility to do any activity inside Iran or conduct any operation abroad from Iran’s territory, and we reject strongly and categorically any connection to this story.”
U.S. Rep. Peter King, chairman of the counterterrorism and intelligence subcommittee, said, “As I understand it, it was a train going from Canada to the U.S.”
Neither the Canadian authorities nor King identified the route of the allegedly targeted train.
Few details have been released
Authorities said the suspects were not Canadian citizens, but declined to identify their nationality or say how long they might have been in Canada.
Esseghaier has been a doctoral student at the National Institute of Scientific Research at the University of Quebec since 2010, according to university spokeswoman Julie Martineau.
He was conducting research on nanosensors, which are used primarily for medical treatments or to build other nanoproducts, such as computer chips, she said.
“I cannot comment on any behavior issues,” Martineau said. “He seemed like a normal student.”
There was no link between the Canadian investigation and the Boston Marathon bombings, an official with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police told CNN on condition of anonymity.
Canadian authorities said the alleged plot was in its planning stage and not imminent.
“We are alleging these two individuals took steps and conducted activities to conduct a terrorist attack,” Jennifer Strachan of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police told reporters.
“They watched trains and railways in the greater Toronto area.”
The alleged plot included a plan to derail a passenger train, she said.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation quoted “highly placed sources” as saying the suspects had been under surveillance for more than a year.
Muhammad Robert Heft, a Muslim community leader in Toronto, told CNN that a tip from a local imam led to the probe. Heft, president of the Muslim social services organization Paradise Forever, cited the RCMP, which he said revealed the information during a briefing on Monday with local Muslim leaders.
“We are supportive and thankful that the RCMP did the investigation and was able to apprehend the individuals before anything happened,” Heft said. “We are pleased that they took us in and explained what was going on.”
The CBC reported that the investigation was “part of a cross-border operation involving Canadian law enforcement agencies, the FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.”
A document seized during the raid in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden was evidence of an al Qaeda discussion to target rail lines in the United States, a law enforcement official told CNN in late 2011.
According to the document, al Qaeda members discussed as early as 2010 a plan to derail trains in the United States by placing obstructions on tracks over bridges and in valleys.
The plan, according to the document, was to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, though no specific rail system was identified, the official said.
News of the arrests Monday came the same day Canada’s parliament debated an anti-terrorism bill.
Is there a relationship between Iran and al Qaeda?
Al Qaeda and Iran have not been viewed as allies, with al Qaeda’s membership being mostly Sunni-dominated and not Shiite.
“We have very little intelligence on al Qaeda in Iran,” King said.
What is known is that bin Laden’s son-in-law, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, fled Afghanistan for Iran after the fall of the Taliban in 2001.
According to U.S. documents and officials, Abu Ghaith and other members of bin Laden’s inner circle ended up in Iran, including the group’s military commander, Saif al-Adel, and Saad bin Laden, a son of the al Qaeda leader who has played a leadership role in the group.
Saad bin Laden also helped one of his father’s wives and several of his father’s children to move from Pakistan to Iran, officials said.