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Canadian terror suspect decries charges in hearing

By Chelsea Carter and Faith Karimi, CNN
updated 5:43 AM EDT, Thu April 25, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Charges not based on Islam's holy book, terror suspect says
  • Chiheb Essegheier, 30, is accused of planning a terrorist attack
  • Raed Jaser, 35, his suspected accomplice, appeared at a court in Toronto on Tuesday
  • The two are accused of plotting to target a U.S.-bound passenger train

(CNN) -- One of two men accused in a Canadian terror plot appeared to criticize the charges against him during a hearing Wednesday in Toronto, saying they were based on imperfect criminal law, not Islam's holy book.

Chiheb Essegheier, 30, is accused in what authorities say was an al Qaeda-backed plot to target a passenger train.

He waived the reading of the charges against him during the hearing Wednesday, telling Justice of the Peace Susan Hilton that "all of these conclusions were based on the criminal code; it was not the holy book."

"First of all, my comment is the following, because all of those conclusions was taken out based on Criminal Code, and all of us we know that this criminal code is not holy book; it's just written by set of creations, and the creations, they're not perfect, because only the creator is perfect, so if we are basing our judgment ... we cannot rely on the conclusions taken out from these judgments," he told Hilton.

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"It doesn't matter in this court," Hilton responded. "You save that for another court, speak to your counsels, take their advice from there."

The suspects planned to target a train crossing from the United States into Canada, according to a U.S. intelligence official and another government official.

It was aimed at the New York-to-Toronto line that runs through Buffalo, another U.S. official said.

Once the explosives went off, two of the officials said, the train would have careered off its tracks, causing major destruction.

Instead, the suspects are behind bars after the Royal Canadian Mounted Police announced their arrest Monday.

Alleged co-conspirator Raed Jaser is "in a state of shock and disbelief," his lawyer John Norris said after his court appearance. He said his client is a permanent resident in Canada and has lived there for 20 years.

"He is anxious to see the evidence that the (government) says that it has against him," Norris said Tuesday.

Both suspects face charges of conspiring "to murder persons unknown ... for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a terrorist group," court records show.

Authorities have not released much detail about the men, including their nationalities or how long they'd been in Canada, beyond that they were not Canadian citizens.

University of Quebec spokeswoman Julie Martineau said Essegheier has been a doctoral student at the school since 2010.

He was a student at the National Institute of Scientific Research and was conducting research on nanosensors, which are used primarily for medical treatments or to build other nanoproducts, she said.

The suspects watched "trains and railways in the greater Toronto area" and intended to derail a passenger train, said Royal Canadian Mounted Police Chief Superintendent Jennifer Strachan.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp., quoting "highly placed sources," reported that both had been under surveillance for more than a year.

The FBI worked with Canadian authorities during the investigation, White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

The terror plot, which a Canadian police official said on condition of anonymity wasn't linked to last week's deadly Boston Marathon bombings, was in its planning stages and not imminent.

Still, the outlines are reminiscent of those found in a document seized during the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

The document indicated that al Qaeda members discussed as early as 2010 a plan to derail trains in the United States by placing obstructions on tracks over bridges and in valleys, a law enforcement official told CNN in 2011. No specific rail system was identified, according to the source.

Authorities believe the suspects received "direction and guidance" from elements of al Qaeda in Iran, said James Malizia, assistant commissioner for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

There's no evidence that the Iranian government was involved, he said.

Iran denies that al Qaeda has any presence within its borders.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi told the country's state-run IRNA news agency that the allegation is "the most ridiculous thing" he has ever heard.

Suspected Iran link in Canadian rail plot puzzles terror experts

Lawyer: Suspect in alleged train terror plot in 'shock' as new details emerge

Opinion: Canadians shouldn't be surprised about alleged terror plot

CNN's Gloria Borger, Pam Benson, Catherine Shoichet, Jack Maddox, Tim Lister, Wolf Blitzer, Steve Almasy, Paula Newton, Irving Last and Mayra Cuevas contributed to this report.

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