A man accused of plotting with al-Qaida members in Iran to derail a train in Canada rejected the charges and said Tuesday that authorities were basing their conclusions on appearances. Law-enforcement officials in the U.S. said the target was a train that runs between New York City and Canada.
Canadian investigators say Raed Jaser, 35, and his suspected accomplice Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, received guidance — but no money — from members of al-Qaida in Iran. Iran released a statement saying it had nothing to do with the plot, even though there were no claims in Canada that the attacks were sponsored directly by Iran.
But the case raised questions about the extent of Shiite-led Iran’s relationship with the predominantly Sunni Arab terrorist network. It also renewed attention on Iran’s complicated history with the terror group, which ranges from outright hostility to alliances of convenience and even overtures by Tehran to assist Washington after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
“We oppose any terrorist and violent action that would jeopardize lives of innocent people,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said Tuesday.
Charges against the two men in Canada include conspiring to carry out an attack and murder people in association with a terrorist group. Police — tipped off by an imam worried by the behavior of one of the suspects — said it was the first known attack planned by al-Qaida in Canada.
Law officials in New York with knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press the attack was to take place on the Canadian side of the border. They are not authorized to discuss the investigation and spoke only on condition of anonymity.
Amtrak and Via Rail Canada jointly operate routes between the United States and Canada, including the Maple Leaf from New York City to Toronto.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Canada has kept New York posted on the investigation.
“I can just tell you that you are probably safer in New York City than you are in any other big city,” Bloomberg told reporters Tuesday without discussing details.
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.