TORONTO — Canadian police have arrested two men and charged them with plotting to derail a Toronto-area passenger train in an operation that they say was backed by al Qaeda elements in Iran.
“Had this plot been carried out, it would have resulted in innocent people being killed or seriously injured,” Royal Canadian Mounted Police official James Malizia told reporters yesterday.
US officials said the attack would have targeted a rail line between New York and Toronto, a route that travels along the Hudson Valley and enters Canada near Niagara Falls.
The RCMP said it had arrested Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, of Montreal, and Raed Jaser, 35, of Toronto in connection with the plot. Authorities said it was not linked to last week’s Boston Marathon bombings, which killed three people and injured more than 200.
Neither suspect is a Canadian citizen, and police did not reveal their nationalities. Two sources following the investigation said one was Tunisian.
Canada’s intelligence agency has long expressed concern about the possibility that disgruntled and radicalised Canadians could attack targets at home and abroad.
Police gave little detail about the alleged plotters, but said a tip from the Muslim community had helped their year-long investigation.
Esseghaier has been a doctoral student at the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique near Montreal since 2010 and was about midway through his degree, the school said.
“He is doing a PhD in the field of energy and materials sciences,” said Julie Martineau, the school’s director of communications.
A bail hearing for the two men was due to take place in Toronto today.
Malizia said they had received “support from al Qaeda elements located in Iran”, but added that there was no sign that the conspiracy, which police described as the first known al Qaeda-backed plot on Canadian soil, had been sponsored by the Iranian state.
Nevertheless, Iran reacted angrily. Canada last year severed diplomatic ties over what it said was Iran’s support for terrorist groups, as well as its nuclear programme and its hostility towards Israel.
“No shred of evidence regarding those who’ve been arrested and stand accused has been provided,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said today.
He said al Qaeda’s beliefs were in no way consistent with the Islamic Republic, and that Iran opposed “any kind of violent action that endangers lives”. (Reuters)