2 linked to al-Qaeda arrested in terror plot in Canada

4:26 PM, Apr 22, 2013   |    comments
A VIA Rail train in Union Station, Toronto. (Photo: Adolch/Wikipedia)
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(USA TODAY) -- Canadian police and intelligence services arrested two suspects Monday who allegedly planned to derail a passenger rail train in Greater Toronto in what the Royal Canadian Mounted Police called a "major terrorist attack."

RCMP Assistant Commissioner James Malizia said at an afternoon news conference that Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, of Montreal, and Raed Jaser, 35, of Toronto, had received "direction and "guidance" from "al-Qaeda elements" in Iran, but there is no indication they were "state sponsored."

Neither is a Canadian citizen. The RCMP would not identify their nationalities or say how long they had been in the country.

Canadian media reported the men are Tunisian.

The alleged plot to derail a VIA Rail train was not connected to the Boston Marathon terror attack. RCMP Chief Supt. Jennifer Strachans said that the suspects had watched trains and railways around Toronto. She and Malizia stressed that the public and rail employees were never in any danger.

"It was definitely in the planning stage but not imminent," she said.

Strachans said the plot involved "a specific route but not a specific train," but she and other officials would not say which route. Law enforcement sources told Canadian media the target was the Toronto-to-New York route.

VIA Rail jointly operates Toronto-to-Niagara Falls trains with Amtrak, which continues service to New York City. Amtrak's Maple Leaf runs between New York City and Toronto.

Sources told the CBC News that the men had been under surveillance for more than a year in Quebec and southern Ontario.

The cross-border investigation was coordinated with the U.S. department of Homeland security and the FBI.

The two men are scheduled to appear in court Tuesday in Toronto. They are charged with conspiracy to carry out a terrorist attack and "conspiring to murder persons unknown for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a terrorist group."

Michael Winter and Doug Stanglin, USA TODAY

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