Raed Jaser, arrested yesterday and charged with planning to derail a passenger train in Canada with the help of al-Qaeda, will defend the charges and is in a “state of shock” over the allegations, his lawyer said.
Jaser, 35, who appeared in a Toronto court today, plans to seek bail at the Superior Court, lawyer John Norris told reporters outside the courthouse. Jaser, who lives in Toronto, is a permanent resident in Canada and has been in the country for 20 years, Norris said.
Canadian police charged Jaser and Chiheb Esseghaier with a plan to derail a VIA Rail train in the Toronto area. The two men took advice from al-Qaeda members in Iran in what is the first al-Qaeda linked plot in Canada, police said. Esseghaier, 30, appeared in a Montreal court today.
Jaser, of Palestinian decent according to his father Mohammad Jaser, had three charges laid against him including conspiring with a terrorist group to commit murder and interfering with transportation facilities. He arrived at the court in a police car, wearing a black skull cap and a brown and charcoal-striped long-sleeve shirt.
Norris, who also defended former Guantanamo Bay inmate Omar Khadr, said he’s confident they will put together a “compelling” application for Jaser’s release.
“He intends to defend himself vigorously against these charges and I look forward to assisting him in that,” Norris said.
The announcement of charges yesterday came three days after U.S. forces captured Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the 19-year-old suspect in the bombings at the Boston Marathon.
“For reasons only they know, the police in their press conference thought it appropriate to raise the issue of my client’s status in Canada,” Norris said. “It seems intended in the current climate to simply demonize my client.”
“It’s surprising to say the least that this arrest would be made now, close on the heels of the events in Boston,” he added.
Jaser’s parents and other family members were at the courthouse and declined to comment. The court ordered a publication ban on the trial proceedings.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the two arrests are symptomatic of a global threat.
“These terrorist threats unfortunately are a part of the global reality,” Harper told lawmakers today in Ottawa. He also congratulated the Muslim community and police officers for their assistance.
Iran denied any link to the rail plot and to al-Qaeda.
“It’s the funniest thing I’ve heard in the 64 years I’ve lived,” said Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, according to comments carried by state-run Iranian Students News Agency.
Esseghaier is a native of Tunisia, the Globe and Mail reported. Doug Best, RCMP Superintendent, said this appears to be the first known terror plot in Canada supported by al-Qaeda.
“These arrests were the result of extensive cross-border cooperation, which is the hallmark of our relationship,” U.S. ambassador to Canada David Jacobson said in an e-mailed statement. “We all need to remain vigilant in confronting threats and keeping North America safe and secure.”
Canada’s national police said the public was not in danger, and that the planned attack wasn’t imminent. They declined to say what route the accused were targeting at Montreal-based VIA Rail, which operates passenger trains across Canada. The Globe and Mail reported the targeted route was Toronto to New York.
Police were acting on a tip from the Muslim community, said Hussein Hamdani, a partner with Simpson Wigle Law LLP in Hamilton, Ontario, and a community leader invited to attend the RCMP press conference yesterday.
“They told us if it was not for the involvement of the Muslim community, they would not have been able to make an arrest,” Hamdani said. “This was a way of reconnecting and strengthening that partnership.”
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