Iran denies link with suspects in alleged Canadian terror plot
Published Tuesday, April 23, 2013 6:24AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, April 23, 2013 12:53PM EDT
Iran has denied any link to the two men the RCMP say were plotting a terrorist attack on Canadian soil. But claims the suspects were receiving support from al Qaeda elements in Iran comes as no surprise to experts who say Tehran has a history of turning a blind eye to terrorist cells operating there.
While Sunni-based al Qaeda is often not linked to the largely Shia population of Iran, security expert Alan Bell says there are a number of terrorism groups that operate in the country.
“They use it as a safe haven to finance, to train and everything else,” Bell told CTV’s Canada AM on Tuesday. “During the (RCMP) investigation they’ve uncovered there is a link to Iran, not so much the Iran government, but definitely to Iran.”
Upon announcing the arrests of Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, of Montreal, and Raed Jaser, 35, from Toronto on Monday, RCMP assistant commissioner James Malizia said the two men were receiving support from al Qaeda elements in Iran.
When pressed to specify the nature of that support, Malizia said it was in the form of “direction and guidance,” and noted that there was no information to indicate the attacks were state-sponsored.
On Tuesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi called the claim “ridiculous.”
"If the news that you are announcing is true, this is the most hilarious thing I've heard in my 64 years," Iran’s ISNA news agency reported Salehi as saying.
"We hope Canadian officials show a little wisdom and pay attention to the world's public opinion and intelligence," he added.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast also told reporters that there is "no firm evidence" of any Iranian involvement in the plot, calling the Canadian claims part of hostile policies against Tehran.
Canada cut diplomatic ties with Iran last year, closing its embassy in Tehran and expelling Iranian diplomats from Ottawa.
Mehmanparast said Iran opposes all terrorist activity “that would jeopardize the lives of innocent people.”
Bell, however, said the country has a history of providing safe sanctuary for al Qaeda members.
“It’s a different brand of Muslim extremism that is operating in Iran at the moment,” he said. “The two don’t usually come together. But, on occasion, if it’s for a vested interest to attack a country which appears to be attacking them verbally, they will probably sign on to it.”
Terrorism expert John Thompson said it’s unlikely that the Iranian government was completely unaware of whatever support Esseghaier and Jaser were receiving from operatives from within the country.
“The RCMP was careful yesterday saying this wasn’t an Iranian plot, but from what we understand, is that normally if al Qaeda in Iran does anything, the Iranians are informed of what’s going on.”
In 2011, the U.S. Treasury Department alleged that a six-member al Qaeda cell based in Iran was operating under an agreement with the Iranian government.
The U.S. also claimed the Iranian group’s leader was working with the government to arrange the release of al Qaeda members from Iranian prisons -- allegations that Iran denied.
But reports suggest that after the U.S. targeted Taliban targets in Afghanistan in 2001, al Qaeda operatives, as well as family members of Osama bin Laden, fled to Iran, where they were closely watched by intelligence officials.
With files from The Canadian Press