U.S. charges man in Canadian train attack case with visa violations

Thu May 9, 2013 6:21pm EDT
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By Mark Hosenball and Bernard Vaughan

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. authorities on Thursday announced visa fraud charges against a Tunisian man who prosecutors said had met with a key figure in an alleged plot to blow up a railroad line in Canada that carries Amtrak trains between Toronto and New York.

In a letter filed in federal court in New York, prosecutors said the man, Ahmed Abassi, 26, who had lived in Canada, was recorded by a U.S. undercover agent discussing various "proposed terrorist plots" with Chiheb Esseghaier, another Tunisian suspect. Esseghaier is now being held by Canadian authorities.

Among the plots that Abassi allegedly discussed was "contaminating the air or water with bacteria in order to kill up to 100,000 people," prosecutors said in the letter. But they said that Esseghaier was "dismissive" of that plan and that no steps were ever taken to carry it out.

Instead, Canadian authorities said last month that they had arrested Esseghaier, 30, a doctoral student in nanotechnology at an institute near Montreal, with plotting to derail a train. A second man, Raed Jaser, faces Canadian charges in the same plot.

U.S. authorities said that in interviews with investigators, Abassi acknowledged that he and Esseghaier had discussed both poisoning a water supply and derailing a passenger train.

At a secret arraignment on May 2, Abassi pleaded not guilty to filling out false immigration documents, according to a newly unsealed transcript of the proceedings.

Abassi, wearing a jail jumpsuit, appeared on Thursday afternoon at a hearing in federal court in Manhattan. Standing more than 6-feet tall with a light beard, short black hair and wire-frame glasses, he leaned close to an Arabic interpreter throughout the hearing.

John Cronan, an assistant U.S. Attorney, said evidence would include "many, many hours" of recorded conversations with an undercover FBI agent, as well as statements Abassi made after being read his Miranda rights.   Continued...

A Via Rail Canada passenger train pulls into Dorval Station in Montreal, July 22, 2009. REUTERS/Shaun Best