TORONTO (AP) — One of two men accused of plotting to derail a train in Canada was born to Palestinian parents who spent much of their lives trying to settle in the Middle East and Germany before arriving in Canada in 1993, according to their Canadian refugee claim documents obtained by The Associated Press on Thursday.
The family lived in relative obscurity in Toronto until Raed Jaser, 35, was arrested earlier this week, along with Chiheb Esseghaier, a 30-year-old Tunisian citizen.
The two were charged 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-Qaida in Iran. Iranian government officials have said the government had nothing to do with the plot.
According to the refugee claim documents, Raed Jaser was born in the United Arab Emirates, where his family lived for 24 years. His father, Mohammed Jaser, claimed that as a Palestinian, he was increasingly harassed by UAE authorities while working for a newspaper in Dubai. He blamed tensions between the UAE and Palestinian leaderships.
The family moved to Germany in 1991 and applied for refugee status, according to the Federal Court of Canada documents.
Before their application in Germany was decided, the family left for Canada in 1993. Mohammed Jasser said he grew fearful of attacks from anti-immigrant groups after a Molotov cocktail was thrown at their house in Berlin.
The Jaser family traveled to Canada using false French passports bought from a Turkish man, according the court filings. They claimed refugee status as "stateless Palestinians" upon their arrival in 1993.
"We hoped to find refuge in Germany, however, refugees in that country are now subject to perpetual harassment and danger. We lived as outsiders, in fear of growing anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiments," Mohammed Jaser testified during refugee board hearings in Toronto in 1993.
Mohammad and his wife Sabah settled in Toronto with their three children, Shadi, Nabil and Raed.
A local religious leader in Toronto said Wednesday that Raed Jaser started showing signs of becoming radicalized, to the point that his father reached out for to a Muslim support group in 2010 and 2011 for help and advice.
Mohammad Jaser expressed concern about his son's increasingly rigid interpretation of Islam, said Muhammad Robert Heft, president of the Paradise Forever Support Group Inc., a non-profit organization that provides support to Muslims in Canada.
Raed Jaser appeared in court Tuesday and did not enter a plea.
The Jaser family lost their refugee application but was allowed to stay in Canada under a special program known as the Deferred Removal Order Class.
They all eventually became Canadian citizens except Raed Jaser because of a 1997 conviction on fraud-related charges, according to the documents. He was arrested in 2004 after authorities issued a warrant for his removal from Canada. At the deportation hearing, he claimed he was a stateless Palestinian with nowhere to go. The Immigration and Refugee Board allowed him to stay in Canada on bail until the case was resolved.
In 2012, Raed Jaser applied for and was granted a pardon on his criminal conviction.
The Tunisian Embassy confirmed Thursday that the other defendant in the terrorism case, Chiheb Esseghaier, is a Tunisia citizen who came to Quebec in August 2008. The embassy, which described Esseghaier as "a brilliant" doctoral student, said it has requested a meeting with Canadian authorities for clarification on his arrest.
Esseghaier appeared briefly in court Wednesday where he made a statement suggesting he did not recognize the court's jurisdiction, saying the criminal code is "not a holy book." He rejected the allegations against him and declined to be represented by a court-appointed lawyer.
Jaser and Esseghaier were ordered to return to court on May 23.
Associated Press writer Benjamin Shingler in Montreal contributed to this story.