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Americas

Two charged in Canada's 'first al Qaeda terror plot'

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-04-23

Two men thought to be linked to al Qaeda have been arrested and charged in connection with planning a terrorist attack on a passenger train in the first known al Qaeda plot against Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said Monday.

Canadian authorities arrested and charged two men with plotting a terrorist attack against a passenger train with support from al Qaeda elements in Iran, police said Monday.

“This is the first known al Qaeda planned attack that we’ve experienced in Canada,” Superintendent Doug Best told a press conference.

Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, and Raed Jaser, 35, had “direction and guidance” from al Qaeda members in Iran, though there was no reason to think the planned attacks were state-sponsored, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Assistant Commissioner James Malizia said.

Police said the men did not get financial support from al Qaeda, but declined to provide more details.

FRANCE 24 speaks to Canadian journalist Thomas Ledwell

The attack “was definitely in the planning stage but not imminent”, RCMP Chief Superintendent Jennifer Strachan said Monday. “We are alleging that these two individuals took steps and conducted activities to initiate a terrorist attack. They watched trains and railways."

Canadian journalist Thomas Ledwell told FRANCE 24 that the two men were “targeting a route rather than the train itself”.

Via Rail, Canada’s main rail company and which carries nearly four million people annually, said that “at no time” were passengers or members of the public in danger.

Officials said the duo had been under investigation since last autumn.

The bail hearing is scheduled for Tuesday in Toronto.

Muslim community tipped off authorities

Charges against the two men include conspiring to carry out an attack and murder in association with a terrorist group. Police said the men are not Canadian citizens but had been in Canada a "significant amount of time", declining to say where they were from or why they were in the country.

Muhammad Robert Heft, who runs an outreach organisation for Islamic converts, and Hussein Hamdani, a lawyer and longtime advocate in the Muslim community, said one of the suspects is Tunisian and the other is from the United Arab Emirates. Heft and Hamdani were part of a group of Muslim community leaders who were briefed by the RCMP ahead of Monday’s announcement.

Authorities were tipped off by members of the Muslim community about one of the suspects, Best said. Hamdani said the police were very appreciative of the help.

"It was sort of a 'thank you' moment," Hamdani said. "This tip, this lead, came from the Muslim community. But for the Muslim community we would not be talking about an arrest today.”

A spokeswoman for the University of Sherbrooke near Montreal said Esseghaier studied there in 2008 and 2009. More recently, he has been doing doctoral research at the National Institute of Sceintific Research, a spokeswoman at the university confirmed.

‘Surprise’

Julie Martineau, a spokeswoman at the institute, said Esseghaier began working at the centre just outside Montreal in 2010 and was pursuing a Ph.D. in nanotechnology.

“We are, of course, very surprised,” she said.

A LinkedIn page showing a man with Esseghaier’s name and academic background said he helped author a number of biology research papers, including on HIV and cancer detection. The page says he was a student in Tunisia before moving to Canada in the summer of 2008.

In Markham, Ontario, north of Toronto, police tape cordoned off half of a duplex, with officers remaining at the scene well into the night.

Sanjay Chaudhary, who lives in the other half of the duplex with his family, said the RCMP questioned him about his neighbour Jaser, asking whether he knew him or spoke to him often.

Chaudhary said he didn’t know his neighbour or the woman he believes is the man’s wife but added “every day, we see them going out”.

Monday’s raid on the house stunned Chaudhary, who said the neighbourhood is otherwise “peaceful”.

US Representative Peter King, a New York Republican, said in a statement praising Canadian authorities for the arrests that the attack was intended “to cause significant loss of human life, including New Yorkers".

The case strengthened allegations by some governments and experts of a relationship of convenience between Shiite-led Iran and the predominantly Sunni Arab terrorist network.

Both Washington and Toronto officials said it had no connections to the Boston Marathon bombings last week.

The investigation surrounding the planned attack was a cross-border operation involving Canadian law enforcement agencies, the FBI and the US Department of Homeland Security.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said the success of the anti-terror operation dubbed “Smooth” was “due to the fact that Canada works very closely with international partners to combat terrorism”.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

 

Date created : 2013-04-23

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