Terror suspects charged in train plot appear in court
A Scarborough man accused of conspiring to bomb a VIA passenger train in the GTA to inflict a spectacular crash with massive casualties appeared briefly Tuesday in a tiny Toronto court.
Raed Jaser stood and spoke clearly in the narrow, basement courtroom packed with reporters and his family when justice of the peace Susan Hilton asked him if he understood what was being said.
“It is very clear,” he responded to her question whether he understood English.
Jaser, 35 — reportedly the son of Palestinian refugee claimants — nodded slightly at his siblings and parents in the courtroom where Hilton ordered him detained automatically due to the nature of the charges he faces.
His lawyer, John Norris, said Jaser comes from a “supportive, loving and tight-knit family” and will seek his release on bail at Superior Court.
Jaser will be back at Old City Hall court on May 23.
Police alleged that the plot was to “take out a train with passengers on board and the crossing trestle” resulting in a “lot of carnage.”
Jaser is facing charges of conspiring with Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, of Montreal, to “murder persons unknown for the benefit of, at the direction or in association with a terrorist group,” and interfering with transportation facilties for a terrorist group between April 1, and Sept. 25, 2012.
Jaser is also charged with participating or contributing with the activity of any terrorist group to carry out any terrorist activity during the same time period.
The heavily bearded and bespectacled Esseghaier, who stood Tuesday in a Montreal courtroom and suggested he was framed, will be flown to Toronto to appear Wednesday in the same courtroom as his co-accused.
The 30-year-old Tunisian national opted to represent himself during the brief appearance in a highly-secured wing of the Montreal courthouse.
“The conclusions were made based on facts and words that are only illusions,” the Ph.D student told Quebec court judge Pierre Labelle as dozens of journalists looked on.
Esseghaier, the alleged ringleader of the plot, was charged with six counts — three more than Jaser.
Esseghaier is the only one charged with knowingly instructing someone to carry out terrorist activity, allegedly between April 1 and Sept. 25, 2012.
Unlike Jaser’s appearance earlier Tuesday morning, Esseghaier apparently had no family or friends in the Montreal courtroom.
The indictment says the Montrealer has “no fixed address.” He was arraigned in Montreal because he was arrested in the city on Monday afternoon across the street from Central Station, a main hub for VIA Rail trains.
Crown prosecutor Richard Roy told the court that an RCMP officer recognized Esseghaier, called him out by name and arrested him after the suspect responded.
Jaser, who is a long-time resident of Canada, has three prior convictions including his latest for uttering death threats in 2000 in Newmarket.
Jaser admitted he vowed to kill the bouncers at a crowded Richmond Hill tavern because he was denied entry. He pleaded guilty and was fined $1,000, placed on two years probation and barred from possessing weapons and explosives for five years.
Prominent defence lawyer Norris said his client’s father, Mohamed Jaser, “is in a state of shock and disbelief at this moment” due to his son’s charges.
“His family is very well established in Canada,” said Norris, contradicting the police statement Monday that his client was a new arrival here.
“He’s innocent and he intends to vigourously defend himself against these charges.”
A man who identified himself as Jaser’s father said, “I’m here to support my son.”