Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Suspect allegedly expressed desire to help terror groups

Man 'radicalized' accused in proposed Via Rail attack: officials

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A former Canadian resident arrested in the U.S. allegedly "discussed" plans to kill tens of thousands of people through air and water contamination with a Montreal man already accused in a cross-border terror plot.

Tunisian national Ahmed Abassi has been charged with fraudulently applying for a visa in order to remain in the U.S. to facilitate an "act of international terrorism," U.S. authorities said Thursday.

Prosecutors allege Abassi had "radicalized" Chiheb Esseghaier, one of two men charged with plotting to attack a Via Rail train travelling from the U.S. to Canada.

Prosecutors said Abassi told an undercover FBI agent Esseghaier's plans were good but the time was not right.

"The defendant noted that he had suggested an alternative plot -- contaminating the air or water with bacteria in order to kill up to 100,000 people -- but that Esseghaier was dismissive of that plan," prosecutors said.

Officials said Abassi travelled from Canada to the U.S. in mid-March, where he was arrested at JFK airport on April 22 -- the same day Canadian authorities arrested Esseghaier and Raed Jaser, 35, of Toronto.

Abassi appeared before a New York judge May 2 and pleaded not guilty.

"Ahmed Abassi had an evil purpose for seeking to remain in the United States -- to commit acts of terror and develop a network of terrorists here, and to use this country as a base to support the efforts of terrorists internationally," said Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

"Thanks to the extraordinary vigilance of our prosecutors and law enforcement partners, Abassi has been thwarted and is being prosecuted for his alleged crimes."

The FBI alleged Abassi was unaware one of his associates was an undercover FBI agent who was privy to the details of the terror plot. Authorities said Abassi was under constant surveillance while in the U.S.

Abassi met with Esseghaier in New York City, said a release jointly issued by the U.S. Attorney's Office, the FBI and the New York Police Department.

"Esseghaier, who was recently arrested in Canada and is currently incarcerated there on terrorism charges, was previously radicalized by Abassi," the release said.

"Abassi discussed his desire to engage in terrorist acts against targets in the United States and other countries, and his intention to provide support and "proposed terrorist plots.

"The defendant, among other things...explained that he and Esseghaier discussed plots to poison a water system and to derail a passenger train."

According to U.S. court documents, Abassi allegedly discussed Esseghaier's "proposed terrorist plots."

"The defendant, among other things...explained that he and Esseghaier discussed plots to poison a water system and to derail a passenger train," the document said.

Esseghaier allegedly later "received overseas training and plotted to engage in terrorist activity in the West."

Esseghaier, also a Tunisian national, was a PhD student doing doctoral research on nanosensors in Montreal.

He is facing five charges, including instructing someone to carry out an activity for the benefit of a terrorist group.

He suggested in a Toronto court last month he doesn't recognize the authority of the Criminal Code because it is "not a holy book."

The FBI alleged Abassi told the undercover officer he knew of a number of individuals who would be willing to engage in terrorist activity.

He was recorded suggesting they send money and weapons to Muslims fighting in Syria, the court documents said.

Additionally, documents said Abassi allegedly expressed his desire to support terror groups, including the al Nusrah Front, which is recognized by the U.S. government as an alias for al-Qaida in Iraq.

"Abassi made clear that he wanted to obtain immigration documents and to remain in the United States so that he could engage in 'projects' relating to future terrorist activities, including recruitment," authorities said.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 10, 2013 A18

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