Via train terror plot suspects to appear in court
RCMP allege link to al-Qaeda in Toronto-area derailment scheme
Two men accused of trying to carry out an al-Qaeda supported plot to derail a Via passenger train in the Toronto area are set to appear in a Toronto courtroom this morning for a bail hearing, as details begin to emerge about their background.
Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, of Montreal, and Raed Jaser, 35, from Toronto have been charged with conspiracy to carry out a terrorist attack and "conspiring to murder persons unknown for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a terrorist group."
Neither man is a Canadian citizen, but they were in the country legally. RCMP did not say where either men was from or how they came to live in Canada, but The Canadian Press said Esseghaier is believed to be Tunisian and Jaser is from the United Arab Emirates.
Jennifer Strachan, chief superintendent of RCMP criminal operations in the province of Ontario, said Monday the two suspects watched trains and railways in the Greater Toronto Area.
"We are alleging that these two individuals took steps and conducted activities to initiate a terrorist attack," she told reporters.
There was a specific route targeted, not necessarily a specific train, Strachan said, although she declined to reveal the route. Police said the attack was not imminent.
According to a Reuters report, U.S. law enforcement and national security sources said the alleged plot targeted a rail line between Toronto and New York City. Via Rail and Amtrak jointly run routes between Canada and the U.S. Both companies say they're working with authorities.
RCMP Assistant Commissioner James Malizia said the two accused were getting "direction and guidance" from al-Qaeda elements in Iran. There was no information to suggest the attacks were state-sponsored, he said.
On Tuesday, Iran's foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told reporters that there is "no firm evidence" of any Iranian involvement and groups such as al-Qaeda have "no compatibility with Iran in both political and ideological fields."
He called the Canadian claims part of hostile policies against Tehran.
Search warrants were executed at a number of homes in both Toronto and Montreal.
Esseghaier was born in Tunisia and had studied at the University of Sherbrooke. More recently, he has been doing doctoral research at the Institute National de la Recherche Scientifique in Varennes, Que.
"His thesis was on nanosensors and he was in one of our research centres," Julie Martineau said in an interview with The Canadian Press about the PhD student, who's enrolled in the faculty of energy materials and telecommunications.
Esseghaier's LinkedIn profile reveals that he took part in writing a number of biology research papers, including those that focused on HIV and cancer detection.
He also attended scientific conferences that included the World Congress on Biosensors in Cancun in 2012 and the Photonics North Conference in Montreal in 2012 and the TechConnect World Conference in Santa Clara, Calif., in 2012.
His profile also said he speaks Arabic, French and English.
Some students who knew him said he had extreme views on religion.
Faouzi Bellili, a doctoral student at INRS, said that a few months ago Esseghaier had told him he shouldn't help Canadians because they are non-believers.
"I actually told my wife, keep an eye on this guy, he's dangerous," he said. However, Bellili added that he didn't believe Esseghaier could harm anyone.
Half of a duplex was cordoned off by police tape in the Markham, Ont., area northeast of Toronto last night as officers questioned neighbours.
A neighbour, Sanjay Chaudhery, said Jaser lives with his wife in a basement apartment. He told CBC News that the couple had lived in Toronto for at least a year and kept to themselves.
"Even if I was working in my backyard, they used to cover their windows and doors," Chaudhery said.
"It's strange, surprising, shocking," he said of the arrests. "I'm worried — what's happening to my neighbourhood?"
RCMP credited the Muslim community with a crucial role in the case, saying it was a tip to police that helped them uncover the alleged plot.
"What we're hoping is that the Canadian community realizes that the lead for this that tipped off the RCMP came from the Muslim community," said Hussein Hamdani, an Ontario lawyer and a member of Public Safety Canada's Cross-Cultural Roundtable on Security.
"The Canadian Muslim community is a partner in making Canada more safe and secure."
Government hurries debate on anti-terrorism bill
The news of the thwarted attack came on the same day that MPs debated a controversial anti-terrorism bill that would reinstate provisions for preventive arrest and investigative hearings, measures that were part of a 2001 bill but were "sunsetted" in 2007.
The bill was introduced in the Senate last year, and it's now in third reading in the House.
Reports: Bombing suspects carrying out jihad; one eyed in triple slaying
by Frank Kummer, Emily Babay, and wire reports
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving 19-year-old suspect in the Boston Marathon twin bombings, is actively cooperating with investigators, according to various reports, and telling them his older brother, Tamerlan, organized the attack to defend Islam.
In another development, the Boston Globe is reporting that Tamerlan, who was killed during a shootout with law enforcement during the manhunt, is being eyed in a triple slaying in 2011.
CNN and AP report that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was shot multiple times, and suffered a throat injury, wrote to investigators that he and the elder Tamerlan were self-radicalized and carrying out a jihad against perceived enemies of Islam. Presumably, that would be America.
However, the interviews are preliminary, sources told CNN, and all accounts need to be checked by investigators.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's answers led authorities to believe he and his brother might have been motivated by a radical brand of Islam, but had no major terror connections, said U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly, reported the Associated Press.
Meanwhile, ABC News is reporting that the two brothers, both ethnic Chechens, are believed to have followed the preaching of al Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki through the Internet.
Al-Awlaki was an American-born jihadist who became an imam in Yemen. The charismatic al-Awlaki was said to be a recruiter and planner for al-Quaeda and posted YouTube videos, dubbing him the bin Laden of the Internet. He was killed in a U.S. drone attack in 2011.
The Tsarnaev brothers are believed to have used instructional videos found on the Internet to plot the attack, and information from al Qaeda's online magazine on how to construct the pressure cooker bombs that exploded, killing three and injuring more than 180.
Fifty-one people are still hospitalized, three of them in critical condition. At least 14 people lost all or part of a limb. Three people lost multiple limbs. Separately, it's believed the Tsarnaevs also shot and killed MIT police officer Sean Collier during a manhunt.
An unsolved triple slaying
The Boston Globe is reporting that Tamerlan Tsarnaev is being eyed in connection with a gruesome triple slaying in 2011.
The newspaper reports that the “gruesome” killings involved the slaying of three young men found with their throats slit inside an apartment in Waltham, Mass. Their bodies were sprinkled with marijuana.
Members of the victims' families are asking police to look into the slayings since Tamerlan was a close friend of one of the deceased. The killings took place at or near the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York. The bodies were found Sept. 12, 2011.
The Globe reports that Tamerlan, who was supposed to be a close friend of one of the victims, did not even attend the friend's funeral. The friend was a martial arts instructor and trained at the same gym as Tamerlan.
Father of Boston bombing suspects 'to fly to U.S. tomorrow' and says he will seek 'justice and the truth' for sons
by Hugo Gye
The father of the two Boston bombing suspects will apparently travel to the U.S. tomorrow in order to seek 'justice and the truth'.
Anzor Tsarnaev says he has 'lots of questions for the police' and is keen 'to clear up many things' when he arrives from his home in Makhachkala in Russia.
He had previously said that he would return to America this week in the wake of the death of his elder son Tamerlan and the arrest of 19-year-old Dzhokhar.
The suspects' mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, yesterday said that her husband would fly to the U.S. on Wednesday, adding that the family hoped to bring Tamerlan's body back to Russia.
Both parents have strenuously denied their sons' guilt for the bombing which killed three people and injured more than 170 at the finish line of the Boston Marathon last Sunday.
They have accused the U.S. authorities of framing Tamerlan and Dzhokhar - Mr Tsarnaev described the death of his son as an 'inside job, while Mrs Tsarnaeva claimed that the government 'wanted to eliminate' Tamerlan, 26.
Mr Tsarnaev, 47, has said that he spoke to his sons in the aftermath of the bombing, before he knew they were responsible.
They apparently reassured him that they were safe, saying: 'Everything is good, Daddy. Everything is very good.'
He claims that Dzhokhar, who is in hospital after shooting himself in the head when he was found hiding in a boat in a backyard in Watertown, Massachusetts, is not being allowed to talk to his relatives.
'They're not letting anyone from the family see him,' Mr Tsarnaev said. 'All we know is what we hear from television.'
Mrs Tsarnaeva, 46, also spoke to the alleged terrorists after the attack - and Tamerlan phoned her moments before his death to say goodbye.
'The police, they have started shooting at us, they are chasing us,' he said, then hung up after adding: 'Mama, I love you.'
She told the Daily Telegraph yesterday she was proud of her sons, and once again insisted that they could not be guilty of the atrocity.
While she admitted that Tamerlan, who had become an increasingly strict Muslim, had dabbled in terrorist-related reading materials, she denied that he would act on the jihadist sentiments.
'Reading extremist materials does not make you a terrorist,' she said. 'Tamerlan told the FBI men, "I read many things - I read Pushkin and Doestoyevsky too." He was an erudite boy.'
Mrs Tsarnaeva added that she thought the U.S. security service was responsible for the bomb, and had decided to frame her sons to justify monitoring them.
'It's a big show, a spectacle,' she said. 'Americans love a show.'
However, other family members have been less keen to defend the alleged terrorists - their uncle Ruslan Tsarni claimed that the pair had been pushed into radical circles by their 'controlling' mother.
He told MailOnline: 'These kids, I thought she's not doing enough. She's not doing them right, especially when they grew up.'
And when they came under the influence of extremist preachers, Mrs Tsarnaeva did not attempt to dissuade them, he added.
In contrast to the Tsarnaevs' steady stream of loud denials, the dead suspect's widow has not spoken out since her husband was implicated in the bombing.
Katherine Russell, the mother of Tamerlan's three-year-old child, has kept a stubborn silence in the wake of his death in a shoot-out with police in the early hours of Friday morning.
She has been co-operating with the FBI investigation into the attack, according to her lawyer.
Amato DeLuca told CNN his client was 'a really good person', adding: 'Katie is just trying to bring up her daughter.'
Tamerlan apparently wanted to bring his wife, who had converted to Islam, with him to Dagestan, the Muslim-dominated state where he grew up before emigrating to Boston.
TSA postpones allowing small knives back on planes
TSA Administrator John Pistole had planned to allow knives back on board later this week.
by Bart Jansen
WASHINGTON — The Transportation Security Administration is postponing letting passengers carry small knives back aboard airline flights.
After facing strong opposition to the policy change from flight attendants and its own air marshals, the agency said Monday it was delaying the policy change so that the airline industry, passenger advocates and law-enforcement experts could weigh in on what should be allowed on planes.
"This timing will enable TSA to incorporate the feedback about the changes to the Prohibited Items List and continue workforce training," the TSA said in a statement.
The TSA had planned to let the knives, with blades up to 2.36 inches, on flights starting Thursday. It would have been the first time they would have been back on passenger planes since Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists armed with box cutters hijacked four jetliners.
TSA chief John Pistole had made the policy change March 5, saying that airport security screeners needed to concentrate on greater risks to air travel.
He also said the change would better match international policy and that other potential weapons, such as scissors and knitting needles, have been allowed on planes since 2005.
The Flight Attendants Union Coalition, which represents 90,000 flight attendants and lobbied against the policy change, welcomed the postponement. The group argued that if TSA wants to change the policy, the agency must go through a formal rulemaking process.
"In the wake of the terrorist bombing in Boston last week ... now is not the time to weaken transportation security," said Sara Nelson, international vice president of the Association of Flight Attendants. "Flight attendants are breathing a sigh of relief that the weapons that led to the deadliest attack on U.S. soil in our nation's history will not be allowed in the aircraft cabin this week."