TWO men accused of plotting a terrorist attack against a Canadian passenger train have made brief court appearances over an operation that police have said was backed by al-Qaeda elements in Iran.
Canadian investigators said Raed Jaser, 35, and his suspected accomplice, Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, received “directions and guidance” from members of al-Qaeda in Iran. However, Iran has denied any involvement.
Charges against the two men include conspiring to murder people in association with a terrorist group. Police said it was the first known attack planned by al-Qaeda in Canada.
Jaser’s court appearance in Toronto was brief. He did not enter a plea and was given a new court date of 23 May. He was accompanied by his parents and brother. The court granted a request by his lawyer, John Norris, for a publication ban on future evidence and testimony.
Esseghaier has claimed the allegations against him are unfair. He is choosing not to be represented by a court-appointed lawyer and made a brief statement in Montreal.
Prosecutor Richard Roy said Esseghaier would be flown back to Toronto to face the charges.
Police said the men were not Canadian citizens, though they had been in Canada a “significant amount of time”. Officers declined to say where they were from, or why they were in the country.
Officials in Canada said Jaser and Esseghaier had “direction and guidance” from al-Qaeda members in Iran, but no financial assistance, and there was no reason to think the planned attacks were state-sponsored.
Iranian foreign ministry spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast, said al-Qaeda had “no compatibility with Iran in both political and ideological fields”.
He added: “We oppose any terrorist and violent action that would jeopardise lives of innocent people.”
He called the Canadian claims part of hostile policies against Tehran, and accused Canada of indirectly aiding al-Qaeda by joining western support for Syrian rebels.
l Police in Spain have arrested two suspected members of al-Qaeda’s North African branch, one of whom Spanish authorities allege praised the Boston marathon bombings, but neither of whom was known to possess any explosives or to be planning any attack.
Nou Mediouni, an Algerian, was arrested in Zaragoza, while Hassan El Jaaouani, a Moroccan, was arrested in Murcia.
Interior minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz said there were “sufficient grounds” to warrant the arrests. He said the two suspects had been acting as “lone wolves”.
Mr Fernandez Diaz said one of the pair had praised the Boston attacks. News agency Europa Press, citing the minister, said this evidence had been found in a document seized by police.
Madrid is to stage its own marathon on Sunday. Authorities say that while no risk or threat has been detected, 1,100 police and security personnel will be on duty.