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 April 22 at John F. Kennedy International Airport. Abassi met regularly with an undercover FBI agent and met with another Tunisian citizen later arrested in Canada in the plot to derail the train, they said.
"Ahmed Abassi had an evil purpose for seeking to remain in the United States — to commit acts of terror and develop a network of terrorists here and to use this country as a base to support the efforts of terrorists internationally," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a release issued after the federal indictment against Abassi was unsealed Thursday.
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.
Prosecutors said Abassi told an undercover FBI agent Esseghaier's plans were good but the time was not right.
"The defendant noted that he had suggested an alternative plot — contaminating the air or water with bacteria in order to kill up to 100,000 people — but that Esseghaier was dismissive of that plan," the government said.
"He also stated … that if he was living in the United States he would be willing to carry out terrorist operations in the United States," prosecutors wrote.
The indictment charges Abassi with two counts of lying on two immigration forms for a green card and work visa. Each count carries a maximum term of 25 years in prison upon conviction.
Abassi's lawyer Sabrina Shroff said he "flatly denies the accusations in the indictment."