Ottawa: Two foreign nationals have been arrested in Canada in connection with what federal police said on Monday was a plot backed by Al Qaida to derail a passenger train in the Toronto area.
The two men face a bail hearing on Tuesday after their arrest on charges of plotting a terrorist attack against a Canadian passenger train with support from Al Qaida elements in Iran, authorities said.
Iran has denied any link with the two suspects. Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said on Tuesday that there is "no firm evidence" of any Iranian involvement and groups such as Al Qaida have "no compatibility with Iran in both political and ideological fields." He called the Canadian claims part of hostile policies against Tehran.
Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, and Raed Jaser, 35, were allegedly planning to carry out an attack on a Via Rail passenger train, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). A bail hearing was set for Tuesday.
Esseghaier is believed to be Tunisian and Jaser is a Palestinian.
Charges filed against the two include conspiring to carry out an attack and conspiring with a terrorist group to murder persons, though very few details about the plot were revealed.
Assistant RCMP Commissioner James Malizia told reporters the suspects "were receiving support from Al Qaida elements located in Iran" but added: "There's no indication that these attacks were state-sponsored."
When asked to describe the kind of support offered, he replied: "Direction and guidance."
Malizia said the suspects are "not Canadian citizens" but declined to reveal their nationalities. One of the two men lived in Montreal for several years, he added, without saying which one.
The suspects' plans were "not based on their ethnic origins but on an ideology," police said.
Bruce Riedel, a CIA veteran who is now a Brookings Institution senior fellow, said Al Qaida 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 traveling between hideouts in Pakistan and Iraq."
RCMP Chief Superintendent Jennifer Strachan said the duo - who had been under surveillance since last August - planned "to derail a passenger train" in the Toronto area, though she would not specify which route.
"We are alleging these individuals took steps and conducted activities to initiate a terrorist attack. They watched trains and railways in the Greater Toronto area," Strachan added.
However, police emphasised that an attack had not been imminent.
"While the RCMP believed that these individuals had the capacity and intent to carry out these criminal acts, there was no imminent threat to the general public, rail employees, train passengers or infrastructure," said an RCMP statement.