After two were arrested and charged this past week in the foiled plot to derail a passenger train, Iranian officials rebutted Canadian police assertions that the foiled plot was linked to Al-Qaeda in Iran. Although the Iranian government itself is not suspected to have played a role in the plot, an Iranian Foreign Ministry condemned the Canadians' claim, saying "the extremist administration of Canada has put Iranophobia on its agenda over the recent years."
The failed plot:
The two suspects Chiheb Esseghaier, 35, and Raed Jaser, believed to be of Tunisian and Emirati origin respectively, were arrested on a tip from a Toronto-area imam concerned with extremism in his local Muslim community. The two are accused of plotting to bomb or derail a Via Rail Canada train travelling from Toronto to New York City — a plot the FBI and Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) took down while still in the planning stages.
The two suspects are charged with conspiring to interfere with transport facilities on behalf of a terrorist organization and conspiring to commit murder. Both suspect has yet to enter a plea, and Mr. Esseghaier declined representation from a court-appointed lawyer, calling the charges against him unfair: "The conclusions were made based on acts and words which are only appearances … [Canada] has produced no shred of evidence regarding those who’ve been arrested and stand accused."
The two are believed to have received "direction and guidance" from "Al-Qaeda elements" in Iran. As we witnessed in 2004 with the Madrid bombings, train attacks are a significant part of Al-Qaeda's toolset and have become all the more central to Al-Qaeda's efforts as airports have become more secure. Relatively little has been done to protect rail infrastructure.
The al Qaeda-Iran link: "The enemy of my enemy is my friend.":
Although there are no claims of Iranian state-sponsorship, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi called the link to Al-Qaeda in Iran "the most hilarious thing I've heard in my 64 years." Iran is a Shia Muslim state and Al-Qaeda a radical Sunni group, which preaches a radical anti-Shia ideology and does not even recognize the Shia as Muslim. For years, in fact, Iran worked against the Taliban for having given sanctuary to Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda nonetheless has links to the Iranian government going back to 2001 when the Iranian government under then-President Mohammad Khatami, fearing American troops at its doorstep, opted to provide a safe-haven for senior Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders fleeing the U.S. advance through Afghanistan.
The most important of these leaders have since either placed under house arrest or jailed by the Revolutionary Guard, and have since been used as bargaining chips. According to U.S. documents, those close to Al-Qaeda hiding in Iran include many of bin Laden’s family and the Al-Qaeda military commander Saif al-Adel. As the BBC's Kasra Naji points out, despite the restrictions imposed by the Revolutionary Guard, it is possible for those senior al Qaeda figures still in Iran today to remain active in the al Qaeda network.
Iran and Canada’s crumbling relations:
In September 2012 Canada suspended diplomatic relations with Iran, citing increasing concern about Iran’s nuclear program, their disregard for the protection of foreign diplomats under the Vienna Convention, and the regime’s military support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Iranian government responded in a statement, "The hostile attitude of the Canadian racist government is indeed pursuing the policies as dictated by the Zionist regime and the UK."