On Campus

Man arrested for train plot was PhD student

Chiheb Esseghaier researched at University of Sherbrooke

More details may be revealed today about two men charged in what police are calling the first known al-Qaida directed plot in Canada.

A bail hearing is scheduled in a Toronto court for Montreal resident Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, and Toronto area resident Raed Jaser, 35.

The two men were arrested and charged yesterday for allegedly planning to attack a Via Rail passenger train.

The plot had “the direction and guidance” from al-Qaida elements in Iran, but there was “no imminent threat” to anyone, police said.

Iran has denied any link to the two suspects.

That country’s foreign minister rejected as “ridiculous” Canada’s claim that the two arrested were backed by al-Qaida in Iran.

“If the news that you are announcing is true, this is the most hilarious thing I’ve heard in my 64 years,” the ISNA news agency reported Ali Akbar Salehi saying today.

“We hope Canadian officials show a little wisdom and pay attention to the world’s public opinion and intelligence,” he added.

Authorities have been carrying out search warrants at locations in Toronto and Montreal as part of the investigation.

Half of a duplex was cordoned off by police tape in the Markham, Ont., area northeast of Toronto last night as officers questioned neighbours.

Sanjay Chaudry, who lived in the other half of the duplex, said he didn’t know his neighbour but had seen him going out nearly every day with a woman thought to be his wife.

“It’s strange, surprising, shocking,” he said of the arrests. “I’m worried _ what’s happening to my neighbourhood?”

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman told The Canadian Press that the second suspect, Esseghaier, had recently been doing doctoral research in biotechnology at the Institut national de la recherche scientifique, where he was enrolled as a PhD student.

His academic supervisor told The Canadian Press that he couldn’t comment on the case and said the school will likely have more information to share today.

“It was a shock for me,” said Tsuneyuki Ozaki of the Montreal-area institute.

A LinkedIn page says a man with Esseghaier’s name and academic background helped author a number of biology research papers, including on HIV and cancer detection.

It also says the man studied the detection of influenza A virus during graduate research at the University of Sherbrooke.

Several U.S. media outlets have cited sources saying the alleged plot was aimed at a passenger train arriving in Toronto from New York City. Via Rail and Amtrak jointly run routes between Canada and the U.S.

Both Via Rail and Amtrak say they’re working with authorities.

The police investigation named “Project Smooth” involved Canadian and U.S. law enforcement agencies.

The two men came to investigators’ attention after tips came in from the Muslim community and they had been under surveillance since August.

Muslim community leaders, who were briefed on the arrests before they were publicly announced Monday, said one of the suspects is Tunisian and one is from the United Arab Emirates.

The men are not Canadian citizens.

—With files from The Associated Press

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