2 men arrested in Canada terror plot to attack passenger train

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Canadian authorities formally charged two men Tuesday with “receiving support from al Qaeda elements in Iran” in a plot to attack a passenger train traveling between Canada and the U.S.

Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, of Montreal, and Raed Jaser, 35, of Toronto, also were charged with conspiring to murder people on a Via Rail Canada train in the greater Toronto area, said James Malizia, assistant commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Mr. Malizia said there is no evidence to show that the plot was state-sponsored, even though the two men had “direction and guidance” but no funding from al Qaeda members in Iran. He said there was “no imminent threat” to the public.

Iranian officials denied Tuesday that al Qaeda is operating in the country, noting sectarian differences between the Shiite-run government and the mostly Sunni terrorist network.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said groups such as al Qaeda have “no compatibility with Iran in both political and ideological fields.”

In a brief courtroom appearance in Toronto on Tuesday, Mr. Jaser did not enter a plea. He will remain in jail until his bail hearing, which was postponed until May 23. The court granted a request by his attorney, John Norris, to ban the publication of evidence and testimony.

Mr. Esseghaier appeared briefly Tuesday in a Montreal court, where he declined to be represented by a court-appointed attorney. He made a short statement in French, calling the allegations against him unfair.

The men were arrested Monday in Montreal and Toronto by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who said there is no link between the Canadian investigation and the Boston Marathon bombings.

Authorities said the suspects are not Canadian citizens but declined to identify their nationalities or say how long they had been in Canada.

Mr. Esseghaier has been a doctoral student at the National Institute of Scientific Research at the University of Quebec since 2010, a university spokeswoman said.

“We are alleging these two individuals took steps and conducted activities to conduct a terrorist attack,” said Jennifer Strachan, chief superintendent of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. “They watched trains and railways in the greater Toronto area.”

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp., quoting what it called “highly placed sources,” said the two men had been under surveillance for more than a year. The CBC also said the investigation is “part of a cross-border operation involving Canadian law enforcement agencies, the FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.”

“This is the first known al Qaeda-planned attack that we’ve experienced in Canada,” said Doug Best, superintendent of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican and chairman of the House Homeland Security subcommittee on counterterrorism and intelligence, thanked “our Canadian counterterrorism partners, particularly the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, for their efforts in stopping a major terrorist plot which was intended to cause significant loss of human life, including New Yorkers.” His reference to New York was not clear.

Via Rail — Canada’s equivalent to Amtrak — said that “at no time” were passengers or members of the public in imminent danger. Via Rail trains carry nearly 4 million passengers annually.

Amtrak said in a statement that it “is aware of the ongoing investigation and will continue to work with Canadian authorities to assist in their efforts.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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