Tunisian man ‘flatly denies’ NY claims he sought to remain in US to build terror network

NEW YORK — A Tunisian man accused of radicalizing a Canadian resident charged in a plot to derail a train has been charged with trying to stay in the United States illegally to build a terrorism cell for international acts of terror such as poisoning a water system with bacteria, authorities said Thursday.

Law enforcement authorities had watched Ahmed Abassi since he arrived in the United States from Canada in mid-March and arrested him on April 22 at John F. Kennedy International Airport, authorities said. Abassi met regularly with an undercover FBI agent and met with another Tunisian citizen who later was arrested in Canada in the plot to derail the train, they said.

The head of the New York FBI office, George Venizelos, said: “Mr. Abassi came to the United States to pursue terrorist activity and support others in the same shameful pursuit. What Mr. Abassi didn’t know was that one of his associates, privy to the details of his plan, was an undercover FBI agent.”

Prosecutors, in a letter submitted to a U.S. District Court judge in Manhattan, said Abassi had radicalized Chiheb Esseghaier, who is charged in Toronto with conspiring with al-Qaida members in Iran to derail a train that runs between New York City and Montreal. Esseghaier appeared briefly in court on April 24 and made a statement suggesting he did not recognize the court’s jurisdiction.

Prosecutors said Abassi told an undercover FBI agent that Esseghaier’s plans were good but the time was not right.