* 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 23 Canadian police have arrested
two men and charged them with plotting to derail a Toronto-area
passenger train in an operation that 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 on
The RCMP said it had arrested Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, of
Montreal, and Raed Jaser, 35, of Toronto in connection with the
plot. Authorities said it was not linked to last week's Boston
Marathon bombings, which killed three people and injured more
Neither suspect is a Canadian citizen, and police did not
reveal their nationalities. Two sources following the
investigation said one was Tunisian.
Canada's intelligence 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 men was due to take place in
Toronto on Tuesday morning.
"AL QAEDA ELEMENTS"
Malizia said they had received "support from al Qaeda
elements located in Iran" but there was no indication that the
plot, which police described as the first known al Qaeda-backed
plot on Canadian soil, was sponsored by the Iranian state.
Al Qaeda is strongly Sunni Muslim-oriented. Shi'ite 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 stage attacks
against the West.
However, a U.S. government source said Iran was home to a
little-known network of 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 they 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 periodically launches crackdowns on al Qaeda
elements, though at other times it appears to turn a blind eye
It is also an area where Iranian authorities have battled a
Sunni insurgency of their own in recent years. The Sunni group
Jundollah is alleged to have carried out several attacks
including a bombing that killed 42 people in 2009, and attacks
on mosques in Zahedan.
TRAIN ROUTE TARGETED
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.
New York Police chief spokesman Paul Browne told Reuters
that the NYPD had been kept informed of the investigation from
Malizia said the RCMP believed the two suspects had had the
capacity and intent to carry out the attack, but there had been
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 had taken 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 in 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