Terror Charge Dropped to Visa Fraud
MANHATTAN (CN) - A Tunisian man originally charged with plotting to derail a train that runs between New York and Canada pleaded guilty to lesser visa fraud crimes, after testifying inside a federal judge's chambers.
In May 2013, prosecutors charged that Ahmed Abassi illegally entered the United States "in order to facilitate an act of international terrorism." Prosecutors said he wanted to develop a network of terrorists and poison the water system to kill thousands of people.
His alleged co-conspirators in the train plot, Chiheb Esseghaier, also of Tunisia, and Palestinian-born Raed Jasser, were arrested and charged in Toronto. Their cases are pending in Canada.
On Tuesday, Abassi avoided the most serious of his charges by confessing to committing visa fraud at an allocution hearing, where he told a federal judge through an interpreter that an FBI informant goaded him to lie to immigration officials to make his way to Canada.
Abassi, ushered into chambers with handcuffs chained to his waist, had prepared to read a short prepared statement approved by his lawyer to seal the deal, but the federal judge asked him to explain his plea in his own words.
U.S. District Judge Miriam Cederbaum asked: "What is it that you did that you want to plead guilty to having done?"
Speaking Arabic to an interpreter, Abassi said that he and his wife were in Tunisia to get married, and he planned to reunite with her in Quebec, where he said he taught and studied at Laval University.
"I had a student visa that was supposed to be valid until June 2013," he said. "A week after my return from Tunisia, the Canadian embassy sent me a message that the student visa [had been] sent in error."
Tamer, an FBI informant he had met in Canada, told him it would be easier for him to secure a Canadian visa and reunite with his wife through the United States, Abassi said.
Abassi's defense attorney Sabrina Shroff reportedly alleged that the FBI entrapped her client.
Abassi said that on March 18, 2013 he flew into JFK Airport, and that he later lied to U.S. officials to train to obtain a visa and a green card.
"I lied when I said the purpose of my trip was business - real estate business," he said. "But the real intent was to go to Canada to reunite with my wife."
He said that he was staying in the agent's New York apartment until his April 22 arrest.
He faces up to six years in prison at his July 23 sentencing if prosecutors apply a terrorism enhancement to his guilty pleas. Defense attorneys are expected to ask for a sentence of time served.