Toronto: Two men face a bail hearing today after their arrest on charges of plotting a terrorist attack against a Canadian passenger train with support from al-Qaeda elements in Iran, authorities said. The case has raised questions about Shiite-led Iran`s murky relationship with the predominantly Sunni Arab terrorist network.
Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, and Raed Jaser, 35, had "direction and guidance" from al-Qaeda members in Iran, though there was no reason to think the planned attacks were state-sponsored, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Assistant Commissioner James Malizia said yesterday.
Police said the men did not get financial support from al-Qaeda, but declined to provide more details.
"This is the first known al-Qaeda planned attack that we`ve experienced in Canada," Superintendent Doug Best told a news conference. Officials in Washington and Toronto said it had no connections to last week`s bombings at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
Charges against the two men include conspiring to carry out an attack and murder people in association with a terrorist group. Police said the men are not Canadian citizens and had been in Canada a "significant amount of time," but declined to say where they were from or why they were in the country.
The arrests in Montreal and Toronto bolstered allegations by some governments and experts of a relationship of convenience between Iran and al-Qaeda.
Bruce Riedel, a CIA veteran who is now a Brookings Institution senior fellow, said al-Qaeda has had a clandestine presence in Iran since at least 2001 and that neither the terror group nor Tehran speak openly about it.
"The Iranian regime kept some of these elements under house arrest," he said in an email to The Associated Press. "Some probably operate covertly. AQ members often transit Iran travelling between hideouts in Pakistan and Iraq."
US intelligence officials have long tracked limited al-Qaeda activity inside Iran.
Remnants of al-Qaeda`s so-called management council are still there, though they are usually kept under virtual house arrest by an Iranian regime suspicious of the Sunni-/Salafi-based militant movement. There are also a small number of financiers and facilitators who help move money, and sometimes weapons and people throughout the region from their base in Iran.
Last fall, the Obama administration offered up to USD 12 million in rewards for information leading to the capture of two al-Qaeda leaders based in Iran. The US State Department described them as key facilitators in sending extremists to Iraq and Afghanistan. The US Treasury Department also announced financial penalties against one of the men.