Two arrested in Al Qaeda US-Canada train plot – directed from Iran

Canadian police thwarted a terrorist attack on a US-Canada train by two men directed by Al Qaeda in Iran. Yes, Al Qaeda in Iran, say police.

Aaron Harris/Reuters
RCMP Assistant Commissioner James Malizia said on Monday in Toronto, that police had arrested and charged two men with an Al Qaeda-supported plot to derail a VIA passenger train.

Two men were arrested Monday and charged with plotting a "major terrorist attack" on a Canada-US passenger train.

Chiheb Esseghaier and Raed Jaser, who live in Montreal and Toronto, were acting alone, but were operating with support from Al Qaeda in Iran, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Al Qaeda in Iran?

Assistant RCMP Commissioner James Malizia, the officer in charge of federal policing operations, said the plot was supported by “Al Qaeda elements in Iran.”  He also said that Al Qaeda provided "direction and guidance" to the alleged plot.

The link to Iran is a curious one. Al Qaeda leaders and Iran's leaders have not been known allies. Al Qaeda is a Sunni-based movement. Iran is predominantly Shiite. Canadian officials made clear that they weren't connecting the alleged plot to the Iranian government. But the presence of Al Qaeda leaders, who fled from Afghanistan to Iran after September 11, 2001, has been known for some time.

As Peter Bergen, wrote for CNN last month, "According to US documents and officials, in addition to [Suleiman] Abu Ghaith, other of bin Laden's inner circle who ended up in Iran include the formidable military commander of al Qaeda, Saif al-Adel, a former Egyptian Special Forces officer who had fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan, as well as Saad bin Laden, one of the al Qaeda's leader older sons who has played some kind of leadership role in the group."

What prompted the Bergen "Strange Bedfellows: Iran and Al Qaeda" article was the recent capture of Osama Bin Laden's son-in-law, Suleiman Abu Ghaith. As Reuters reported, "he was captured on Feb. 28 and brought secretly to the United States ... Law enforcement sources say he was detained in Jordan by local authorities and the FBI after was believed to have been expelled from Turkey." But for most of the past decade Abu Ghaith had been living in Iran.

"Current and former US officials said that group, known to US investigators as the Al Qaeda "Management Council," was kept more or less under control by the Iranian government, which viewed it with suspicion."

Bergen describes the life of Al Qaeda members in Iran is a loose form of house arrest.  They are allowed to go out shopping, for example, but with restrictions.

This latest example of an Al Qaeda-Iran tie will raise some eyebrows.

And how serious was this latest terrorist threat in Canada?

Charges include conspiring to carry out an attack against, and conspiring to murder persons unknown for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a terrorist group, according to the RCMP press release. "It was definitely in the planning stage but not imminent," RCMP chief superintendent Jennifer Strachan told reporters. But she declined to give more details.

Neither men were Canadian, and Canadian law enforcement officials did not state their nationality, but some media reports described them as Tunisians.

US officials told Reuters that the attack plotters were targeting a rail line between New York and Toronto, but Canadian police did not publicly confirm which route was the target.

Canadian law enforcement officials praised the cooperation between various agencies, including the FBI, the US Department of Homeland Security, Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Canada Border Services Agency, and various local Canadian police departments.

The CBC News says that it's "highly placed sources" tell them that the suspected terrorists have been under surveillance for more than a year in Quebec and southern Ontario.

The two men are reportedly to appear in a Toronto court Tuesday, and more details may be forthcoming in that hearing.

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