Canadian al-Qaeda suspect in court
Iran says claims men linked to it ‘ridiculous’
John Norris (C), the lawyer of suspect Raed Jaser, speaks to the media outside Old City Hall Court, following his client’s brief appearance in court in Toronto. Photograph: Reuters
Two men charged in Canada with plotting an attack on a passenger train appeared in separate courts yesterday while Iran reacted angrily to police accusations that the plotters were backed by al-Qaeda elements there.
Raed Jaser (35) of Toronto and Chiheb Esseghaier (30) of Montreal were arrested in separate raids and charged on Monday, sparking worries of a Canadian attack just one week after the Boston Marathon bombings killed three people and injured more than 200.
Mr Jaser arrived at the procedural hearing in Toronto’s Old City Hall courthouse.
He was detained and would return for a bail hearing at a later date, his lawyer, John Norris, told reporters.
“He denies the allegations and he will vigorously defend them,” Mr Norris said outside the court, describing Mr Jaser as being in a state of “shock and disbelief”. He would not disclose his client’s nationality but said he had been a resident of Canada for 20 years.
Meanwhile, Mr Esseghaier, a Tunisian-born doctoral student at a Montreal-area university, appeared at a Montreal court, handcuffed and in shackles.
He told the judge conclusions had been drawn from deeds and words “that are only appearances”.
Mr Esseghaier was remanded in custody until an arrest warrant was executed and endorsed in Quebec, after which he could be flown back to Toronto for a court appearance there.
Canadian authorities have linked the two to al-Qaeda factions in Iran, but say there is no indication the planned attack, described by police as the first known al-Qaeda backed plot on Canadian soil, were state-sponsored.
Police said they had been investigating the two suspects since last autumn after a tip-off from the Muslim community in Toronto.
US officials said the attack would have targeted a rail line between New York and Toronto, a route that travels along the Hudson Valley into New York wine country and enters Canada near Niagara Falls. Canadian police said only that the plot involved a passenger train route in the Toronto area.
Iran reacted angrily to being tied to the arrests. Canada last year severed diplomatic ties over what it said was Iran’s support for terrorist groups, as well as its nuclear programme and its hostility towards Israel.
“No shred of evidence regarding those who’ve been arrested and stand accused has been provided,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said, according to the Mehr news agency.