Rizgar Alizadeh describes himself as a simple plumber living in a small town on the Iran-Iraq border. He doesn't own a computer. He's never travelled outside Iran. And he laughs at the suggestion that he is a member of a terrorist group.
In a lengthy interview with The Globe and Mail Friday, Mr. Alizadeh, who is alleged to belong to a terror cell planning to detonate improvised explosive devices in the Canadian capital and fund insurgent groups in Afghanistan, shot back at the accusations made against him by the Canadian security apparatus.
His older brother, Hiva Alizadeh, is facing the most serious charges of the four people arrested in this week's anti-terror sweep. Police sources said Hiva has ties to an Islamist insurgent group operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region. He studied electrical engineering at a college in Winnipeg and is the only person charged with making or possessing an explosive substance.
Police sources said that the more than 50 circuit boards seized in the raids were sophisticated, long-range trigger devices that mark a significant technological advance for Canadian terror groups. They said the triggers would have allowed bombs to be detonated from a distance of several hundred metres,
Rizgar Alizadeh said there is no substance to the allegations, and, speaking through a Canadian translator from his home in Iran, sounded remarkably calm about being accused of a serious crime. He said he had been told by his aunt in Canada that his brother was arrested, but didn't know the arrest was related to terrorism, or that he himself was also allegedly one of the conspirators.
"It was very surprising. All through today I was thinking why have they got him? What has he done?" he said.
Rizgar described the allegations against both him and his brother as "a pack of lies" and said he was neither angry nor fearful because his conscience is clear.
"I don't get scared at all. Hiva has the same mentality as I do. He's cool like me" he said.
Quoting an old Farsi proverb he added, "Whoever has a clean account is not afraid of the accountant."
The two men were very close growing up in Sardasht, a city of about 40,000 people near the Iraq border in the mountainous western region of Iran . In 1987, they survived a chemical attack launched by Saddam Hussein on the region's ethnic Kurds, but Rizgar said they remembered very little of it.
Their father was a caretaker for the Iranian board of education. However, the local economy was stagnant, Mr. Alizadeh said, and his brother, one of six siblings, decided to set out for a better life at the age of 19. He walked through the mountains to Turkey where he was accepted as a United Nations refugee and eventually embarked for Canada. He landed in Winnipeg about nine years ago and was embraced by the local Iranian community, which included an uncle who drove a taxi. One person who knew him in those years described him as shy and hard-working. He took jobs as a security guard on construction jobs, stocked shelves at a Halal meat shop, and later followed in his father's footsteps by taking a job cleaning schools.
Rizgar said Hiva struggled in Canada to fit in socially, however.
"He was saying they are kind people, but they are not like us. They are a bit cold," Rizgar recalled.
A person who knew him in Winnipeg, but asked not to be identified, said the elder Mr. Alizadeh took his religious faith very seriously, and seemed concerned that others adhere to the orthodoxy he espoused.
"We weren't actually seeing eye to eye in this area," said the man, who also knew Hiva when he was growing up in Iran.
"Once in a while he would say, "This is right, this is wrong … It was important to him. He was trying to keep his principles."
Eventually, he married an aboriginal woman from Winnipeg, Julie Harper, who converted to Islam and wore the niqab, his brother said. But he felt lonely in Winnipeg after his uncle moved to Ottawa and decided to join him. It was around this time, police allege, that the conspiracy began.
In Iran, Rizgar said he has never heard of any of the other members of the alleged conspiracy: the Montreal doctor Khurram Sher, the X-ray technologist Misbahuddin Ahmed, and unindicted co-conspirators James Lara and Zakara Mamosta.
He said neither he nor his brother had ever travelled to Afghanistan or Pakistan, nor had they ever contributed to Islamic charitable groups in that region. He also laughed at the suggestion they had connections to terror groups in the region.
"He never had anything to do with politics in any country. We do have some unfortunate people in our distant family, people who cannot afford enough rice or meat. Sometimes I was telling him to send money to help them and I help them to buy food and things," Rizgar said. The amounts were usually about $300 a year, and were deposited directly to an account at Iran's Tejarat Bank, he said.
He said his brother had travelled to Saudi Arabia twice in the past decade, but only for the Muslim pilgrimage, not for any other reason.
"I think they arrested him because he's a Muslim," Rizgar said. He added that both he and his brother are soft-hearted characters who would hesitate to water a plant for fearing of harming an insect on its surface.
After the attacks of Sept. 11 he said his brother was upset at the loss of life.
"He was saying there's lots of women and children and lots of innocent people inside that building," Rizgar said.
The two of them spoke on the phone once every three weeks, but otherwise never exchanged e-mails or conventional mail.
The last time they spoke was two days, shortly before the elder Mr. Alizadeh was arrested. He never suggested he thought he was being watched, his brother said. The last time he saw him was about a year ago when he travelled to Iran to visit his mother, who was having surgery. It was only the second time he had been back home.
He never expressed much unhappiness, his brother said. He liked Canada for its wealth and kind people, he said.
"He was saying lots of good things about Canada's economy and it was really good for him because he was working and had enough to do," he said.