Canadian police arrested two foreign nationals in connection with a plan to derail a passenger train in the nation’s first suspected terror plot involving al-Qaeda.
Police arrested Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, of Montreal and Raed Jaser, 35, of Toronto, Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers said yesterday. The accused were taking advice from al-Qaeda sources in Iran, the RCMP said. The target was a VIA Rail passenger train in the Toronto area, they said.
“Canada worked very closely with international partners to combat terrorism” in the investigation, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews told reporters in Ottawa. “Our government will continue to be vigilant.”
The two men were scheduled to appear in a Toronto court today on charges including conspiring to carry out an attack, the RCMP said. Canada’s government has said a terrorist attack in the country by al-Qaeda or people inspired by them is a possibility and the country’s spy agency has reported threats from al-Qaeda because of Canada’s ties to the U.S. and a past combat mission in Afghanistan.
“Each and every terrorist arrest the RCMP makes sends a message and illustrates our strong resolve to root out terrorist threats and keep Canadians and our allies safe,” RCMP Assistant Commissioner James Malizia told reporters in Toronto.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation helped with the probe, the RCMP said in a statement. Police declined to comment on what country the two people are from, and added there is no indication the support from Iran was state-sanctioned.
Iran denied any link to the plot and to al-Qaeda.
“It’s the funniest thing I’ve heard in the 64 years I’ve lived,” said Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, according to comments carried by state-run Iranian Students News Agency.
Esseghaier is a native of Tunisia, the Globe and Mail reported. Doug Best, RCMP Superintendent, said this appears to be the first known terror plot in Canada supported by al-Qaeda.
“These arrests were the result of extensive cross-border cooperation, which is the hallmark of our relationship,” U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Jacobson said in an e-mailed statement. “We all need to remain vigilant in confronting threats and keeping North America safe and secure.”
Canada’s national police said the public was not in danger, and that the planned attack wasn’t imminent. They declined to say what route the accused were targeting at Montreal-based VIA Rail, which operates passenger trains across Canada. The Globe and Mail reported the targeted route was Toronto to New York.
Amtrak, the U.S. passenger rail service, referred inquiries to Canadian police.
“Amtrak appreciates the actions of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in their ongoing investigation regarding a terror plot against our colleagues at VIA Rail,” according to a statement yesterday.
Police were acting on a tip from the Muslim community, said Hussein Hamdani, a partner with Simpson Wigle Law LLP in Hamilton, Ontario, and a community leader invited to attend the press conference by the RCMP.
“They told us if it was not for the involvement of the Muslim community, they would not have been able to make an arrest,” Hamdani said. “This was a way of reconnecting and strengthening that partnership.”