ABU DHABI // One of the two men charged with plotting a terrorist attack against a Canadian passenger train visited the UAE several times but was not a citizen of the country, a UAE official said yesterday.
Police identified the suspect as Raed Jaser but, other than confirming he was not a Canadian citizen, declined to say where he was from or why he was in the country. Some Canadian news organisations reported he is a 35-year-old Palestinian with citizenship in the UAE. The UAE official said last night, however, that Mr Jaser, whom he identified as Raed Jasser Ibrahim Ammour, is a Jordanian national who was born in Tulkarem in the West Bank in 1967.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Mr Jaser visited the UAE "several times" on a tourist visa from Qatar, most recently from September 17 to 20, 2011.
The UAE statement came hours after the two men made separate court appearances yesterday in a case that prompted Iran to immediately distance itself from allegations that Al Qaeda was operating in the country.
Canadian investigators say Mr Jaser and his suspected accomplice Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, received "directions and guidance" from members of Al Qaeda in Iran. Iran denied any involvement and said groups such as Al Qaeda do not share Iran's ideology.
Charges against the two men include conspiring to carry out an attack and murder people in association with a terrorist group. Police said it was the first known attack planned by Al Qaeda in Canada.
At a bail hearing in Toronto, Mr Jaser arrived sporting a long black beard and black cap. Details of the hearing are covered by a publication ban.
Mr Jaser, who denied an involvement, was detained and will return for a bail hearing at a later date, his lawyer, John Norris, told reporters.
"He denies the allegations and he will vigorously defend them," Mr Norris said outside the court, describing Jaser as being in a state of "shock and disbelief".
He would not disclose Mr Jaser's nationality but said he has been a resident of Canada for 20 years.
Mr Esseghaier, a Tunisian-born doctoral student at a Montreal-area university, appeared at a Montreal court, handcuffed and in shackles.
He told the judge that conclusions had been drawn from deeds and words "that are only appearances".
Bearded and bespectacled, Mr Esseghaier was remanded in custody until an arrest warrant is executed and endorsed in Quebec. He will then be sent to Toronto for a court appearance.
Canadian authorities have linked the two to Al Qaeda factions in Iran but they say there is no indication that the attack plans, which police described as the first known Al Qaeda-backed plot on Canada, were state-sponsored.
Police said they had been investigating the two suspects since last fall after a tip from the Muslim community in Toronto.
Muhammad Robert Heft, who runs an outreach organisation for Islamic converts, and Hussein Hamdani, a lawyer and longtime advocate in the Muslim community, said one of the suspects was Tunisian and the other was from the United Arab Emirates. Mr Heft and Mr Hamdani were part of a group of Muslim community leaders who were briefed by the RCMP ahead of Monday's announcement.
US officials said the attack would have targeted a rail line between New York and Toronto.
Iran reacted angrily to being tied to the arrests. Canada last year severed diplomatic ties over what it said was Iran's support for terrorist groups, as well as its nuclear programmed and its hostility towards Israel.
"No shred of evidence regarding those who've been arrested and stand accused has been provided," Iranian Foreign Minister spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said, according to the Mehr news agency.
Little is known about Mr Jaser but a spokeswoman for the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique near Montreal said Mr Esseghaier was a doctoral student at the research institute.
Iran had some senior Al Qaeda figures under a form of house arrest in the years following the September 11, 2001, attacks, but there has been little to no evidence to date of joint attempts to execute violence against the West.
* Reuters with additional reports from the Associated Press