April 23, 2013 / 1:53 PM / 5 years ago

Canadian passenger train attack suspects set for court hearings

TORONTO/MONTREAL, April 23 (Reuters) - Two men charged in Canada with plotting an attack on a passenger train will appear in court for bail hearings on Tuesday, while questions swirl about their background and reported links to al Qaeda elements in Iran.

Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, of Montreal and Raed Jaser, 35, were arrested and charged by Canadian police on Monday, sparking worries of a Canadian terror attack just one week after the Boston Marathon bombings killed three people and injured more than 200.

Neither suspect is a Canadian citizen but police did not reveal their nationalities. They said they had been investigating the two since last fall after a tip from the Muslim community in Toronto.

Little is known about Jaser but a spokeswoman for the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique near Montreal confirmed to Reuters that Esseghaier, said to be Tunisian, was a doctoral student at the research institute.

Canadian authorities have linked the two to al Qaeda factions in Iran, to the surprise of some security experts. But police also said there was no indication that the attack plans, which police described as the first known al Qaeda- backed plot on Canadian soil, were state-sponsored.

Iran had some senior al Qaeda figures under a form of house arrest in the years following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, but there has been little to no evidence to date of joint attempts to execute violence against the West.

However, a U.S. government source said Iran is home to a little-known network of alleged al Qaeda fixers and “facilitators” based in the city of Zahedan, very close to Iran’s borders with both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Reporters and onlookers were lined up Tuesday outside a courtroom in Toronto’s Old City Hall, where a bail hearing for Jaser is scheduled.

A hearing for Esseghaier is set for later in the day in Montreal.

U.S. officials said the attack would have targeted a rail line between New York and Toronto, a route that travels along the Hudson Valley into New York wine country and enters Canada near Niagara Falls.

Canadian police said only that the plot involved a passenger train route in the Toronto area.

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