Canada passenger train attack plot suspect set for court hearing

By Allison Martell

TORONTO (Reuters) - A Montreal man accused of helping plan an al Qaeda-backed attack on a passenger train is set for a court hearing in Toronto on Wednesday.

Chiheb Esseghaier, a Tunisian-born PhD student, faces charges that include conspiracy to murder and working with a terrorist group. He and another suspect allegedly hoped to derail a passenger train, perhaps at a bridge near the U.S.-Canada border, with possible heavy loss of life, authorities said.

Esseghaier, 30, along with Raed Jaser of Toronto, were arrested on Monday in separate raids after what police said was a joint Canada-U.S. investigation that started last year after a tip from a member of the Muslim community.

Esseghaier declined an offer of legal representation at a separate procedural hearing in Montreal and sought to explain how the words and facts in police allegations were "only appearances."

Canadian police said the plot involved a passenger train route in the Toronto area but that there had been no immediate threat to rail passengers or to the public. They said the alleged plot had no connection to the Boston Marathon bombings.

But U.S. officials said that the suspects were believed to have worked on a plan to blow up a trestle on the Canadian side of the border as the Maple Leaf, Amtrak's daily run between Toronto and New York, passed over it.

Canadian authorities have linked the two to al Qaeda factions in Iran. But they added that there is no indication the attack plans, which police described as the first known al Qaeda-backed plot on Canadian soil, were state-sponsored.

Two hours before Wednesday's hearing, reporters and TV trucks were clustered outside Toronto's Old City Hall, a clock-tower-topped building of dark red sandstone.

(Writing by Cameron French; Editing by Janet Guttsman and Philip Barbara)