OTTAWA — Fraud-related convictions almost led to the deportation of one of the men charged in an alleged plot to attack a Via Rail passenger train.
Immigration documents show federal authorities wanted to deport Raed Jaser in 2004 — something that proved difficult because he was a stateless Palestinian.
Jaser, 35, of Toronto, and Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, of Montreal, face criminal charges in what the RCMP says was a terrorist plot guided by al-Qaida in Iran.
Jaser came to Canada with his parents and two brothers in March 1993, flying into Toronto’s Pearson Airport from Germany, where the family says it faced persecution.
Raed Jaser, born in the United Arab Emirates in 1977, was listed as a stateless Palestinian in his refugee application.
His father Mohammed hailed from Jaffa City but told Canadian authorities he was forced to leave, as a non-Jew, when the state of Israel was established. Mohammed Jaser wound up in the UAE, where he worked for years, but left after the 1990 Gulf War, saying Palestinians were subjected to hostility and suspicion because of the conflict.
The family moved to Germany but encountered “perpetual harassment and danger,” says the father’s refugee claim.
“Ultimately we were forced to flee in fear of our lives as a Molotov Cocktail was thrown into our home while all of us were present,” Mohammed Jaser said in his personal statement to the refugee board.
However, the board rejected the family’s application for asylum, noting Mohammed had remained in Germany for a year after the firebombing incident.
Still, most of the family members managed to remain in Canada and obtain citizenship.
Unlike his parents and siblings, Raed Jaser was unable to do so because of criminal convictions, including acts of fraud in 1997 and unspecified offences in 2001, according to immigration records.
Jaser was arrested in August 2004 after authorities issued a warrant for his removal from Canada. He was allegedly working illegally and had used numerous aliases.
But he had nowhere else to go and appeared to want to remain in Canada.
“I am not a citizen of the United Arab Emirates, I can’t be,” he told a 2004 detention review. “I am a Palestinian by blood, that does not give me any rights whatsoever in my place of birth.”
Jaser staved off deportation and become a permanent resident — if not a full citizen — of Canada.
The RCMP arrested Jaser and Esseghaier on Monday — close on the heels of bomb attacks that rocked Boston.
Esseghaier, a Tunisian citizen, was doing doctoral research on nanotechnology and has co-authored several scholarly articles.
The Embassy of Tunisia in Ottawa says it has asked for a meeting with Canadian authorities “to seek clarification on his arrest and his involvement in this case.”
Esseghaier and Jaser face several charges including conspiracy to murder for the benefit of a terrorist group. They could face life in prison.
Jaser’s lawyer, John Norris, has said his client “denies the allegations and he will vigorously defend them. … Mr. Jaser is presumed innocent of these charges, just as any other person who would be facing such a charge is to be presumed innocent.”
Esseghaier suggested in court this week that he doesn’t recognize the authority of the Criminal Code because it is “not a holy book.”
Their next court appearances are scheduled for May.
The RCMP continue to investigate the alleged terror plot, one source familiar with the probe said Thursday.
“The investigators are still talking to a lot of people, trying to find out a lot of things,” said the source, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the case.
Former CSIS assistant director Ray Boisvert says while he doesn’t have first-hand knowledge of the probe, he’s not surprised by reports that U.S. officials wanted Canada to hold off on making the arrests so they could continue gathering information south of the border.
“There’s been speculation there was pressure from the Americans to go one way or the other. Yeah, I mean, we all do that to each other,” Boisvert said.
“Sometimes we’ve asked the Americans to hold off on something, sometimes we’ve asked them to move on something, they’ve (done) that to us. Am I shocked or surprised? No. Each jurisdiction will pull the trigger on these things … when the timing’s right.”
Boisvert said he believes the RCMP simply “felt they had enough” evidence to make the arrests when they did — an assessment that would have been made with input from federal prosecutors.
Timing of the arrests was somewhat fluid, said the source, suggesting they were not pinned to any particular event or action. “The takedown could have been before, it could have been later.”