One of two men accused of plotting with al-Qaeda members in Iran to derail a train in Canada became radicalized to the point that his father reached out to a Muslim support group for help and advice, a local religious leader said on Wednesday.
Muhammad Robert Heft, president of the Paradise Forever Support Group, a non-profit organization that provides support to Muslims in Canada, said Mohammad Jaser came to him several times citing concerns about the radicalization of his son.
“He came to me about his son saying he how concerned he was getting about the rigidness of his son and his interpretation of Islam. He was becoming self-righteous, becoming pushy, pushing his views on how much they [his family] should be practicing as a Muslim,” Heft said.
Jaser’s son, Raed, 35, has been charged along with Chiheb Esseghaier, 30 with conspiring to carry out an attack and murder people in association with a terrorist group in their plot to derail a train that runs between New York City and Montreal.
Canadian investigators say the men received guidance from members of al-Qaeda in Iran. Iranian government officials have said the government had nothing to do with the plot.
“His son was becoming overzealous and intolerant in his understanding of the religion,” Heft said. “Those are the telltale signs that can lead into the radicalization process.”
The discussions took place between 2010 and 2011, while the father was renting a basement apartment in Heft’s home in Markham, Ontario.
On Wednesday, the other suspect appeared briefly in court where he made a statement suggesting he did not recognize the court’s jurisdiction.
“This criminal code is not a holy book,” Esseghaier said at the hearing. “We cannot rely on the conclusions taken out from these judgements.”
At the hearing Esseghaier rejected the allegations against him and declined to be represented by a court-appointed lawyer.
Jaser had appeared in court on Tuesday and did not enter a plea. The court granted a request by his lawyer, John Norris, for a publication ban on future evidence and testimony.
Both men were ordered to return to court on May 23.
“We are waiting for the disclosure and we will be defending against the charges,” Norris said in a telephone interview.
Norris declined to comment when asked if he wanted his client’s case separated from Esseghaier, who has spoken out twice in court despite being advised not to.
Police — tipped off by an imam worried by the behavior of one of the suspects — said it was the first known attack planned by al-Qaeda in Canada.
The case has raised questions about the extent of Shiite-led Iran’s relationship with al-Qaeda, a predominantly Sunni Arab terrorist network. It also renewed attention on Iran’s complicated history with the terror group, which ranges from outright hostility to alliances of convenience and even overtures by Tehran to assist Washington after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the US.
Meanwhile, the Canadian parliament on Wednesday approved new provisions to strengthen its anti-terrorist laws. The House of Commons voted 183 to 93 in favor of the bill, which had already received Senate approval.
The new laws restore provisions from the 2001 anti-terrorist legislation that had expired in 2007, such as allowing authorities to keep suspects in preventative custody or under surveillance. They also allow a judge to compel a witness — under penalty of imprisonment — to testify, if they may have information about a terrorism offense, past or future.
Additional reporting by AFP