Canada thwarts terrorist train plot

Canadian authorities arrested two men for plotting to derail a passenger train.

Tornoto, Canada. Picture: AFP

TORONTO - Canadian police said on Monday they had arrested and charged two men with plotting to derail a Toronto passenger train.

They said the entire plot was backed by al Qaeda elements from 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.

The RCMP said it had arrested Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, of Montreal, and Raed Jaser, 35, of Toronto in connection with the plot, which authorities said was not linked to last week's Boston Marathon bombings.

Neither are Canadian citizens, and police did not reveal their nationalities.

Two sources following the investigation said one of the two was Tunisian.

Canada's spy 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," Julie Martineau, the school's director of communications, told Reuters.

A bail hearing for the two will take place in Toronto on Tuesday morning.

Malizia said there was no indication that the planned attacks, which police described as the first known al Qaeda- backed plot on Canadian soil, was state-sponsored.

US officials said the attack would have targeted a rail line between New York and Toronto, a route that travels along the Hudson Valley into New York wine country and enters Canada near Niagara Falls.

OTHER INVOLVEMENT

The plot is one of a handful of terrorism-related investigations involving Canadians or Canadian residents.

Police said earlier this year that Canadians took part in an attack by militants on a gas plant in Algeria in January, while Canadian and Somalia authorities are investigating whether a former University of Toronto student participated in a bomb attack on Mogadishu last week.

And in 2006, police arrested and charged nearly 20 Toronto-area men accused of planning to plant bombs at various Canadian targets. Eleven were eventually convicted.

"Today's arrests demonstrate that terrorism continues to be a real threat to Canada," Public Safety Minister Vic Toews told reporters in Ottawa.

"Canada will not tolerate terrorist activity and we will not be used as a safe haven for terrorists or those who support terrorist activities."