Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, of Montreal, and Raed Jaser, 35, of Toronto, were arrested today
Suspected received orders and got guidance from al-Qaeda leader in Iran
Planned to target New York-bound trains in Toronto
PUBLISHED: 20:36, 22 April 2013 |
Canadian security forces have thwarted an al-Qaeda-backed terrorist plot to derail a New York City-bound passenger train as it crossed the Niagara River, just a few miles from Niagara Falls.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police today arrested Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, of Montreal, and Raed Jaser, 35, of Toronto. Authorities allege the pair took orders and received guidance from al-Qaeda operatives in Iran.
Officials reportedly watched the men for more than a year and say the plot never got past the planning stages. Canadian counter-terrorism investigators say the public was never in danger, the the men would have carried out the attack if they had not been stopped.
Neither of the men are Canadian citizens, but security officials wouldn’t reveal where they were from or why they were in the country.
A U.S. law enforcement source told Reuters the alleged plot was not linked with last week’s Boston Marathon bombings.
The two men allegedly planned to derail an Amtrak or Canadian Via train as it crossed over the Whirpool Rapids Bridge from Canada into the United States, according to reports.
The 115-year-old arch bridge spans the Niagara River 225 feet above the water.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation said the operations was conducted with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the FBI.
A source told Reuters that the Amtrak Maple Leaf line, which runs from Toronto to New York City, was targeted. Canadian officials declined to confirm which trains were in the crosshairs.
The men allegedly watched trains and rail yards across the greater Toronto area to prepare for their assault.
‘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.’
Perhaps the biggest surprise to come out of the announcement is that the orders were given by al-Qaeda leaders in Iran.
Iran, a Shi’a-majority country, is a strange ally for the fiercely Sunni Muslim terrorist group.
CNN reported last month that the few surviving members of Osama bin Laden’s inner circle currently reside in Iran.
Some of bin Laden’s family are said to be under house arrest in Tehran. Others – including top advisers – live in the ski resort city of Chalus on the Caspian Sea.
Canadian authorities, though, were careful to make clear that this was not an instance of state-sponsored terrorism.
The arrests follow not only the Boston bombings but revelations that Canadians took part in an attack by militants on a gas plant in Algeria in January.
It also recalls the arrests in 2006 of a group of more than a dozen Toronto-area men accused of planning to plant bombs at various Canadian targets. Eleven men were eventually convicted of taking part on the plot.