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Man linked to alleged Via terror plot pleads guilty in U.S. to lesser charges

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ANDREW VAUGHAN / THE CANADIAN PRESS Enlarge Image

NEW YORK, N.Y. - A former Canadian resident arrested last year in the United States in connection with an alleged plot to attack a Via Rail train pleaded guilty Tuesday to less serious immigration charges.

Tunisian national Ahmed Abassi was accused of plotting to organize a U.S-based terrorism cell and prosecutors alleged he radicalized one of two men charged in Canada with plotting to attack a train travelling between the two countries.

Chiheb Esseghaier, a Tunisian national who was doing doctoral research on nanosensors in Quebec, and Raed Jaser, a permanent resident of Palestinian descent, are expected to go to trial next year in Toronto on terrorism charges.

U.S. prosecutors allege that Abassi met regularly in the U.S. with an undercover FBI agent and Esseghaier. They claimed Abassi wanted to remain in the United States to cultivate a network of terrorists for international attacks.

The defence accused the government of entrapment, saying the undercover agent lured Abassi to the United States by promising to put him up in a luxury apartment and to help him get a Canadian visa so he could reunite with his wife in Quebec.

Abassi told a federal judge in Manhattan that he lied about why he had flown to the United States when he spoke to a federal agent in 2013 and when he filled out a green card application.

"I said I was going to work in the real estate field," Abassi said. "It was not true."

Abassi faces a maximum sentence of six years in prison at sentencing on July 23, but he could be released from jail and immediately deported if the judge agrees to a defence request for time served.

Abassi was arrested in New York in April 2012, the same day Canadian authorities arrested Esseghaier and Jaser, and initial reports, citing U.S. officials, said Abassi had travelled from Canada to the U.S. in mid-March.

But Immigration Minister Jason Kenney suggested later that Abassi, who had been studying in Canada, could not actually have entered the U.S. from here. Kenney said when the government became aware of security concerns Abassi was back in Tunisia and his study permit was not renewed.

Abassi reportedly studied chemical engineering at Laval University in Quebec City.

— With files from The Canadian Press

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