On April 22, Canadian officials said the plotting of Chiheb Esseghaier and Raed Jaser to destroy a passenger train traveling between the United States and Canada was linked to al Qaeda’s network inside Iran.
The two suspects had received “support from al Qaeda elements located in Iran” in the form of “direction and guidance,” Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Assistant Commissioner James Malizia said. Iran’s Foreign Minister called Canadian officials’ claims linking the plotters to al Qaeda operatives in Iran “ridiculous.”
Over the past few days, new details have emerged on the two suspects who were taken into custody on April 22, and authorities may be preparing to announce the arrest of additional individuals.
Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, was born in Tunisia, and is believed to be the mastermind of the terror plot. Esseghaier, a doctoral student at the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique (INRS) in Montreal, has a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Biology and a master’s degree in Industrial Biotechnology, according to his LinkedIn page. Esseghaier’s LinkedIn page also displayed an image of al Qaeda’s black flag, which was first used by al Qaeda in Iraq but has been adopted by other al Qaeda affiliates.
During his court appearance on April 23, Esseghaier, who has been in Canada only five years, denounced the court’s authority. “This criminal code is not a holy book,”said Esseghaier, who declined a court-appointed lawyer. In court documents, Esseghaier was listed as homeless, and he “was granted permanent residency under Quebec’s skilled worker program” in 2012, according to the National Post.
Esseghaier’s behavior has drawn the ire of some in the past, according to Canadian press reports. For example, at some point after 2010, Esseghaier ripped down posters at INRS that included a picture of a woman. In another incident, he reportedly told another Muslim from Tunisia that they should not pay taxes to Canadian authorities. Prior to his eviction in December, neighbors complained that Esseghaier “prayed loudly and at all hours of the day” in his apartment. And last spring, Esseghaier reportedly engaged in erratic behavior during a flight to Mexico, which was monitored by undercover surveillance officers, according to CBC News.
Yesterday US officials revealed to Reuters that Esseghaier had traveled to Iran at least once in the past two years. According to Reuters, Esseghaier’s time in Iran “was directly relevant to the investigation of the alleged plot.” Additionally, sources involved in the investigation told the Toronto Star that prior to arriving in Canada in 2008 on a student visa, Esseghaier had met with an al Qaeda operative.
Raed Jaser, 35, was born in Abu Dhabi but never obtained UAE citizenship, and he reportedly travels on a Jordanian passport. In 1993, the Jaser family arrived in Canada on fake passports after claiming they had been “terrorized” by anti-immigration groups in Germany, where they had been living for at least two years. While his parents were not given refugee status, according to the National Post, through Canada’s “deferred program” they were allowed to stay and eventually obtained Canadian citizenship.
Raed Jaser did not obtain citizenship, however, due to a criminal record that included five counts of fraud, among other charges. In 2004, Canadian authorities tried to deport Jaser, but “as a stateless Palestinian, he could not be sent to any other country,” the National Post reported.
Eight years later, Jaser was granted permanent resident status. Around the same time he was given the new status, Jaser had a death threat conviction from 2001 pardoned, according to the National Post.
In 2011, according to the Globe and Mail, the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) received reports that Jaser “was spreading extremist propaganda to youth in Toronto.” Press reports suggest that Jaser’s father, Mohammed, approached a Muslim leader in the community between 2009 and 2011 over concerns of his son’s “understanding of Islam.”
Additional arrests on the way?
Recent press reports indicate that authorities may be preparing to make new announcements related to the plot, including the possible arrest of an individual in the United States.
On April 23, CTV News reported that at least two suspects in the New York area were under surveillance but not yet arrested. On the same day, CBC News stated that authorities were “monitoring a broader network of terrorism suspects beyond” Esseghaier and Jaser.
The following day, the Globe and Mail similarly reported that “[a]uthorities are investigating more suspects” and that the FBI had questioned a suspect earlier this week. On the same day, the National Post reported that a case related to Jaser and Esseghaeir “was expected to be dealt with in the Southern District of New York” soon.
Yesterday the National Post reported that “the FBI is holding a third man in New York.” According to a reporter with the Wall Street Journal, the “third man” might be “a Tanzanian national who is cooperating” and no formal announcement regarding his arrest may occur.
Although the FBI has not yet confirmed the report, a US official told Reuters that there was likely “another shoe to drop” in the case. However, one source cautioned that “[a]t the end of the day we may end up with just two people charged, we may end up with more, it’s too premature to say well there’s going to be half a dozen or whatever,” according to the Toronto Star.