TORONTO (AP) — A man accused of plotting with al-Qaida members in Iran to derail a train in Canada was due to appear in a Toronto court Wednesday after declaring at his initial court appearance that the charges against him are unfair. 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.
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 rejected the allegations against him.
"The conclusions were made based on facts and words which are only appearances," he said in a calm voice after asking permission to speak.
Esseghaier, who was arrested Monday afternoon at a McDonald's restaurant in the train station, was later flown to Toronto for a court appearance Wednesday in the city where his trial will take place.
Jaser appeared in court earlier Tuesday in Toronto and also did not enter a plea. He was given a new court date of May 23. He had a long beard, 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.
The case has raised questions about the extent of Shiite-led Iran's relationship with al-Qaida, a 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.