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HALIFAX (Reuters) - A Canadian man and American woman accused of plotting a shopping mall massacre in the Atlantic Canadian city of Halifax appeared in court on Tuesday for a preliminary hearing before a trial begins on the planned mass shooting.
The 21-year-old man and 23-year-old woman, who are believed to have met online, are accused of planning a Columbine-like mass murder and suicide. They were arrested at the Halifax airport in February, after the woman traveled from Illinois, allegedly to carry out the massacre.
Canadian Randall Shepherd and American Lindsay Souvannarath sat on a bench at one side of the courtroom, separated and flanked by sheriffs deputies.
Shepherd, wearing blue jeans and a leather jacket, and Souvannarath, wearing a black skirt and gray blouse, did not speak or look at each other during the hearing. They are represented by different defense attorneys.
A publication ban was imposed by the judge, barring media from reporting details of the case discussed by witnesses or lawyers in the courtroom.
Government attorney Mark Heerema, who is prosecuting the case, said that while a preliminary hearing is typically used to determine whether there is enough evidence to warrant a trial for the accused, it is already clear that this case will go to trial. The hearing will allow the defense lawyers to hear from the prosecution's 11 main witnesses.
"The focus of the preliminary (hearing) is to ask questions of these individuals so that they can assist in the preparation for the trial," Heerema told reporters outside the courtroom.
Shepherd and Souvannarath have been charged with conspiracy to commit murder and arson as well as unlawful communication threatening "through social media" to cause harm or death.
The two were arrested at the Halifax airport after police received a tip about their alleged plans to shoot as many people as possible at the Halifax Shopping Centre on Valentine's Day, then kill themselves. A third man believed linked to the plot was found dead in a house in Halifax.
The two men were childhood friends in Halifax, met the woman online and, according to media reports, all three admired the teenagers who killed 12 students and a teacher during a high school shooting spree in 1999 in Columbine, Colorado.
Blogs and a Facebook profile linked to Souvannarath featured dark images of death and Nazism and an image with the words: "Valentine's Day It's going down."
Reporting by Richard Woodbury; Editing by Christian Plumb