Image or normalcy surrounds Canada’s terror plot suspects

Matthew Coutts
Daily Brew

As the case against two suspected terrorists accused of plotting to inflict massive casualties in an attack on Canadian soil began working its way through the criminal justice system on Tuesday, questions linger about who the two men are and how they would have got involved in an alleged plot against the country where they chose to live.

Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, and Raed Jaser, 35, made separate court appearances in Montreal and Toronto, one day after being arrested in an RCMP-led investigation into an alleged plot to derail a VIA Rail passenger train outside of Toronto.

Both appearances were brief. According to Reuters, Esseghaier told a Montreal courtroom that conclusions had been drawn from actions and “were only appearances.” He was remanded and was expected to appear in a Toronto court, likely next week.

[ Related: VIA terror plot suspect remanded in Toronto till May 23 ]

CBC News reports that a Toronto judge granted a publication ban on the case against Jaser on Tuesday, who faces six charges, including "conspiring to murder persons unknown for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a terrorist group."

Jaser was remanded to custody until he appears in court on May 23. His lawyer, John Norris, told reporters outside court that his client had deep ties to the Toronto area.

"For reasons only they know the police ... thought it appropriate to raise my client's status in Canada. I can tell you he is a permanent resident in Canada, he has lived here 20 years," Norris said, in an interview aired by CBC News. "It is quite regrettable that the police chose to make an issue of that. It seems to be intended, in the current climate, to demonize my client."

When announcing the arrests of Esseghaier and Jaser on Monday, RCMP officials made a point to note that neither suspect was a Canadian citizen. Both, however, had moved to Canada legally. Little more information was given at the time.

[ More Brew: Iran accuses Canada’s ‘radical’ government of tying it to plot ]

But pictures of the two suspects are beginning to emerge, painting an image of normalcy around Jaser, a decades-long Ontario resident, and Esseghaier, a bright student who moved to Canada to continue his studies.

Jaser, 35, is believed to be a Palestinian who holds citizenship in the United Arab Emirates. Norris, his lawyer, said he holds permanent resident status in Canada and has lived in the Toronto area for 20 years.

Maclean’s reports Jaser appears to have a history with Canada’s criminal justice system. The magazine reports that a man with his name and date of birth previously faced charges of fraud, later withdrawn, and was convicted of uttering threats in 2000.

Global News, meantime, has learned that Jaser previously lived with his parents in Markham, just outside of Toronto, and a now-defunct limousine service was previously listed under his name.

A current neighbour told the network that Jaser and his wife went to mosque every day and, at one point last summer, lived with “five or six people” in one apartment. It is not clear what Jaser currently did for employment.

There were fewer questions about what Esseghaier was doing during his time Canada. The 35-year-old Tunisian was believed to be in the country as a student and was researching, among other things, antiviral drugs to treat HIV.

The Montreal Gazette reports that Esseghaier earned a Masters degree in industrial biotechnology at a university in Tunisia and was a researcher at the University of Sherbrooke in 2009. A spokesperson for the Institut national de la recherche scientifique in Quebec City confirmed for the newspaper that he has more recently been doing doctoral research at the school.

Resident Faouzi Bellili told the Gazette he one spoke to Esseghaier at a mosque in Côte-des-Neiges and he seemed to be angry about Canada's tax system, stating he was upset that his money was “helping Canadians.”

While both suspects now have their first court appearances behind them, there is still long way to go before any clarity is brought to the circumstances behind their arrest.