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Canada terror suspect denies charge

| Tuesday, April 23, 2013, 6:54 p.m.

TORONTO — A man accused of plotting with al-Qaida members in Iran to derail a train in Canada rejected the charges and said on Tuesday that authorities were basing their conclusions on appearances. American law enforcement officials said the target was a train that runs between New York City and Canada.

Raed Jaser, 35, and his suspected accomplice, Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, received guidance — but no money — from members of al-Qaida in Iran, Canadian investigators said. 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 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 9/11.

“We oppose any terrorist and violent action that would jeopardize lives of innocent people,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said.

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 said 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.

“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 did not enter a plea. He was given a new court date of May 23. The court granted a request by his lawyer, John Norris, for a publication ban on future evidence and testimony.

Norris questioned the timing of the arrests, pointing to ongoing debates in the Canadian Parliament over a new anti-terrorism law that would expand the powers of police and intelligence agencies.

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