TORONTO — A suspect accused of plotting with al-Qaida in Iran to derail a train in Canada said Tuesday authorities were basing their conclusions on mere appearances. Iran, meanwhile, denied any involvement.
Canadian investigators say Raed Jaser, 35, and his suspected accomplice, Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, received “directions and guidance” from members of al-Qaida in Iran. Iran said it had nothing to do with the plot, and groups such as al-Qaida do not share Iran’s ideology.
Charges against the two men include conspiring to carry out an attack and murder people in association with a terrorist group. Police — tipped off by an imam worried about one of the suspects’ behavior — said it was the first known attack planned by al-Qaida in Canada.
In a brief court appearance in Montreal, a bearded Esseghaier declined to be represented by a court-appointed lawyer. He made a brief statement in French in which he called the allegations against him unfair.
“The conclusions were made based on facts and words which are only appearances,” he said in a calm voice after asking permission to speak.
Jaser appeared in court earlier Tuesday in Toronto and also did not enter a plea. He and was given a new court date of May 23. He had a long beard and wore a black shirt with no tie, and 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.
“I don’t know nothing. Let the police do their job,” his father, Mohammed Jaser, said outside the courtroom in a crush of journalists.
The men’s case has raised questions about the extent of Shiite-led Iran’s relationship with the predominantly Sunni Arab terrorist network. Relations between the two have been rocky for many years, but some al-Qaida members were allowed to stay in Iran after fleeing Afghanistan following the U.S. led invasion there.