To many, it came as a surprise that the RCMP is alleging that two terror suspects arrested in Canada on Monday were supported by al-Qaeda operatives in Iran.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi called the allegations “ridiculous” and denied that his country had any role in the plot.
"Al-Qaeda in Iran, it is a sheer lie, a scandalous lie that surprised me," Mr. Salehi told reporters in Tehran on Tuesday, according to the Fars news agency.
The Islamic Republic News Agency added that Mr. Salehi called the accusations were laughable.
“He said this is the funniest thing he has heard during his 64 years of life,” IRNA reported.
At a press conference following the arrests of the two men suspected of conspiring to derail a Via Rail passenger train, RCMP Assistant Commissioner James Malizia told reporters that the suspects received “support from al-Qaeda elements located in Iran” but added that there was no sign the plot was state-supported.
The Sunni-based al-Qaeda and Shia Iran belong to different branches of Islam that have been at odds historically. But in recent years U.S. officials have formally alleged that Iran has allowed al-Qaeda members to operate out of its territory.
The claim was first made in July, 2011, when the U.S. Treasury Department alleged that a six-member al-Qaeda cell was based in Iran, operating under an agreement with the Iranian government. Iran has denied the allegations.
“This network serves as the core pipeline through which [al-Qaeda] moves money, facilitators and operatives from across the Middle East to South Asia,” the U.S. Treasury said in announcing that American citizens were prohibited from engaging in financial transactions with the group.
The network was alleged to be headed by the Syrian-born Ezedin Abdel Aziz Khalil, whom the U.S. Treasury described as a senior facilitator living in Iran who collected money from donors and helped the travel of recruits from the Persian Gulf to Pakistan and Afghanistan via Iran.
The U.S. Treasury and State Department also allege that Mr. Khalil worked with the Iranian government to arrange the release of al-Qaeda personnel from Iranian prisons.
Last fall, the U.S. Treasury added the names of Adel Radi Saqr al-Wahabi al-Harbi and Muhsin al-Fadhli as al-Qaeda financiers and facilitators in Iran. Mr. al-Fadhli had replaced Mr. Khalil as al-Qaeda’s senior figure in Iran, American officials alleged.
“Iran continues to allow [al-Qaeda] to operate a core pipeline that moves [al-Qaeda] money and fighters through Iran to support [al-Qaeda] activities in South Asia. This network also sends funding and fighters to Syria,” the U.S. Treasury said at the time.
The State Department also authorized bounties for the two, offering up to $7-million for information leading to the location of Mr. al-Fadhli and up to $5-million for Mr. al-Harbi.
Both men are wanted by Saudi authorities, and Mr. al-Fadhli is wanted by authorities in Kuwait on terrorism-related charges.