* Two men charged with plot to derail passenger train
* Plot "al Qaeda-supported," not related to Boston bombings
* U.S. officials say pair targeted Canada-U.S. train
By Euan Rocha and Alastair Sharp
TORONTO, April 22 Canadian police said on Monday
they had arrested and charged two men with plotting to derail a
Toronto-area passenger train in an operation 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.
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, which killed three and injured more
than 200 people last week.
Neither is a Canadian citizen, 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 radicalized 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
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
Malizia said there was no indication that the planned
attacks, which police described as the first known al Qaeda-
backed plot on Canadian soil, were state-sponsored.
U.S. 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.
Canadian police said only that the plot involved a VIA
train route in the Toronto area. VIA is Canada's equivalent of
Amtrak and operates passenger rail services on track owned
primarily by Canadian National Railway Co.
New York Police chief spokesman Paul Browne told Reuters
that the NYPD and Commissioner Ray Kelly had been kept informed
of the investigation from "early on."
Malizia said the RCMP believed the two had the capacity and
intent to carry out the attack, but there was no imminent threat
to the public, passengers, or infrastructure.
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
AL QAEDA IN IRAN
The Canadian authorities linked the two to al Qaeda factions
in Iran, to the surprise of some security experts.
"The individuals were receiving support from al Qaeda
elements located in Iran," Malizia said.
Iran did host some senior al Qaeda figures under a form of
house arrest in the years following the Sept. 11 attacks, but
there has been little to no evidence to date of joint attempts
to execute violence against the West.
However, a U.S. government source said Iran is home to a
little-known network of alleged al Qaeda fixers and
"facilitators" based in the Iranian city of Zahedan, very close
to Iran's borders with both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The source said the operatives serve as go-betweens, travel
agents and financial intermediaries for al Qaeda operatives and
cells operating in Pakistan and moving through the area.
They do not operate under the protection of the Iranian
government, which has a generally hostile attitude towards Sunni
al Qaeda militants, and which periodically launches crackdowns
on the al Qaeda elements, though at other times appears to turn
a blind eye to them.