04/25/2013 04:50 EDT | Updated 06/25/2013 05:12 EDT

Chiheb Esseghaier Neighbour Recalls Confrontations With Terror Suspect


MONTREAL - One of the suspected terrorists accused of plotting to derail a passenger train would have run-ins with his next-door neighbour because his loud prayers would wake him up at all hours of the night, the neighbour recalled Thursday.

The nocturnal noise from Chiheb Esseghaier's appartment was one of several problems he allegedly had with people in the Montreal apartment building where he lived until a few months ago.

Esseghaier is one of two men arrested by the RCMP this week for an alleged plan to attack a Via passenger train.

The suspect's former next-door neighbour in the thin-walled, low-rent building said he knocked on Esseghaier's door on several occasions in the middle of the night to ask him to stop making so much noise.

Michel, who declined to give his family name, said he told Esseghaier to feel free to continue his praying as long as he did so quietly.

"He didn't like me very much because I told him to shut up at night," Michel said Thursday in front of the building, in a blue-collar sector of the city's Rosemont district.

"(Esseghaier) said, 'I will do my prayers anyway.' "

Michel said he respects a person's right to practice their religion, but when Esseghaier continued his middle-of-the-night chants he complained to the superintendent.

Sound travels so freely in the three-storey, brick building that a person standing in a corridor can clearly hear what tenants are watching on TV inside their apartments.

Tenants in the building allege that Esseghaier exhibited other strange behaviour.

Michel recalled that another neighbour told him they smelled something burning inside Esseghaier's unit and they discovered he was trying to dry a shirt over the elements on his stove.

Montreal's La Presse newspaper reported that the Tunisian man was evicted from that apartment in December. Another man in the building told The Canadian Press that Esseghaier simply had to leave because he couldn't afford the rent, which one neighbour pegged at about $500 a month.

The apartment was Esseghaier's most recent dwelling. Authorities said he had no fixed address when they arrested him earlier this week.

La Presse also reported that Esseghaier was caught attempting to cook on the flames of his barbecue in the living room because he said it was too windy outside.

Michel said Esseghaier shared the second-floor studio unit with another man, who moved out a couple of months before the suspect.

He said the men, who didn't know each other before moving in together, argued frequently.

"He told me, 'I can no longer stand living with this guy, I'm going to move in with friends,' " Michel said of Esseghaier's former roommate.

Michel said the roommate, a taxi driver who worked nights, was very friendly.

The cabbie, he added, told him Esseghaier dragged an old mattress that had been left for garbage collection into the apartment to use as a bed.

Michel said he helped clean up the unit after Esseghaier moved out. The mattress and the apartment, he said, were full of bugs.

Other locals remember seeing Esseghaier in the area, but they said he kept a low profile.

A man who lives on the other side of Esseghaier's Apartment 23 said he never uttered more than a neighbourly "hello" to the terror suspect. He said he never heard any noise in Esseghaier's unit.

A woman, who works at a nearby daycare, said she remembers seeing Esseghaier on the street, but that she never noticed anything out of the ordinary about him.

Esseghaier, who does not hold Canadian citizenship, is a biotechnology expert who was performing doctoral studies in nanosensors at a Montreal-area university.

The Tunisian Embassy in Ottawa issued a statement saying Esseghaier arrived in Canada in August 2008 and that he is a "brilliant PhD student." The Tunisian diplomatic officials also indicated they want to know more about the circumstances of his arrest.

"The embassy has requested meeting with Canadian relevant authorities to seek clarification on his arrest and his involvement in this case," read the statement.

Esseghaier and Raed Jaser, 35, of Toronto, face charges in what the RCMP says was a terrorist plot to attack a passenger train. Police allege the plan was guided by al-Qaida in Iran.

On Wednesday, Esseghaier asked to address a Toronto courtroom after the five terrorism charges against him were read out.

He suggested in court that he doesn't recognize the authority of the Criminal Code because it is "not a holy book."

In a separate court date this week, he denied the charges against him: "The conclusions were made based on facts and words which are only appearances,'' said Esseghaier, who will next appear in court via video on May 23.

News coverage of the arrests circled the globe. Michel said he recognized Esseghaier when he saw him on TV.

"It's very surprising," he said.

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