TORONTO // One of the two men accused of an Al Qaeda-backed plan to derail a passenger train in Canada questioned the authority of Canadian law to judge him, telling a court yesterday that the country's criminal code is imperfect and is not a holy book.
Chiheb Esseghaier, a Tunisian-born doctorate student, faces charges that include conspiracy to murder and working with a terrorist group.
He and another suspect allegedly hoped to derail a passenger train, perhaps at a bridge near the US-Canada border, with possible heavy loss of life, authorities said.
In a brief hearing where he was ordered back into custody, Mr Esseghaier, 30, said the allegations against him are based on laws that are unreliable because they are not the work of God.
"All of these conclusions was taken out based on (the) Criminal Code," he told a Toronto court. "The Criminal Code is not (a) holy book."
He added: "Only the Creator is perfect."
The judge told him to "save that for another court," and take the advice of his lawyers. He was given a May 23 court date.
Mr Esseghaier, who has a thick black beard and wore a blue-black windbreaker, declined to use an Arabic interpreter the court had made available. But he seemed to struggle at times to understand the proceedings.
Canadian authorities said they have linked the two to Al Qaeda factions in Iran. They said, however that there is no indication the plans, which police described as the first known Al Qaeda-backed plot on Canadian soil, were state-sponsored.
Tehran has vehemently rejected any ties to the arrests.
Authorities said there is also no connection to the Boston Marathon bombing. But US officials say investigators are trying to establish if the two suspects were part of a wider network with associates in the United States, especially in New York.
Mr Esseghaier, along with Raed Jaser, 35, of Toronto, were arrested on Monday in separate raids after what police said was a joint Canada-US investigation that started last year after a tip from a member of the Muslim community.
Mr Jaser was remanded into custody on Tuesday. He denies the charges against him, said his lawyer John Norris, who has also represented Canadian Guantanamo detainee Omar Khadr.
Mr Norris said Jaser was a permanent resident of Canada who has lived there for 20 years. The lawyer refused to say where Mr Jaser was from, saying that revealing his nationality in the current climate amounted to demonising him. Canadian police have declined to release the men's nationalities, saying only they had been in Canada a "significant amount of time".
Some news organisations said Mr Jaser was a 35-year-old Palestinian and Muslim community leaders in Toronto said he was from the UAE. But a UAE government source Tuesday identified the man as Raed Jasser Ibrahim Ammour, a Jordanian national born in Tulkarem in the West Bank in 1967, who visited the UAE "several times" on a tourist visa from Qatar, most recently from September 17 to 20, 2011.
US officials said that the suspects were believed to have worked on a plan to blow up a trestle on the Canadian side of the border as Amtrak's daily run between Toronto and New York, passed over it.
* With additional reports from the Associated Press