April 23, 2013

CANADA: Al-Qaeda Linked Terrorists From Tunisia And Palestine Allegedly Planned To Derail VIA Passenger Train On New York-To-Toronto Route

The National Post
written by Stewart Bell, Joe O'Connor, Sarah Boesveld and Adrian Humphreys
Monday April 22, 2013

An al-Qaeda-linked plot to derail a VIA Rail passenger train on the New York-to-Toronto route was disrupted by police Monday, when two foreign nationals were arrested following an eight-month counter-terrorism investigation that was aided by members of Canada’s Muslim community.

Chiheb Esseghaier, a 30-year-old Tunisian living in Montreal on a student visa, and Raed Jaser, 35, a Palestinian with landed immigrant status who lives in Toronto, were to appear in a downtown Toronto courtroom Tuesday to face charges of conspiracy to commit murder in association with a terrorist group.

The attackers had allegedly received what police called “direction and guidance” from the core of al-Qaeda, operating out of Iran, where some members of Osama bin Laden’s terrorist group have operated since fleeing Afghanistan. There was no evidence the plot was sponsored by the Iranian regime. The RCMP said the plot was in the planning stages but not imminent.

“Had this plot been carried out, it would have resulted in innocent people being killed or seriously injured,” RCMP Assistant Commissioner James Malizia told reporters. Together with the FBI, Canadian police and security agencies had thwarted the plot “early and effectively,” he said.

Following the arrests, imams and Muslim community leaders from across Toronto were summoned by phone and email to a 2:30 p.m. briefing with RCMP officers. Those who attended said after they were told of the arrests, some participants had raised concerns about the potential backlash against Canadian Muslims.

At 3:20 p.m., one of the suspects arrived at Buttonville Municipal Airport north of Toronto. Wearing jeans, a windbreaker and sneakers, he emerged from a plane in handcuffs and shackles, escorted by an officer. He was then bundled into a black Chevy Suburban with tinted windows and whisked from the tarmac.

Meanwhile, police were searching a house in northeast Toronto. A neighbour said police had arrived at about 1 p.m. to search a basement apartment, where a couple with no children had been living for about a year. Another neighbour said Mr. Jaser regularly worked out in the backyard with four or five other men who wore traditional Muslim clothing.

According to sources close to the investigation, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service had initially developed concerns about the pair. A member of the Toronto Muslim community later came forward, alarmed by the extremist rhetoric one of them was spouting.

“This is something that I hope all Canadians understand, that the Muslim community in Canada is a partner in making Canada more safe and secure, and this arrest, but for the cooperation of the Muslim community, would not have happened,” said Hussein Hamdani of North American Spiritual Revival, who attended the police briefing.

The suspects had allegedly scouted possible places along the VIA Rail tracks to derail a train arriving from New York, trying to select a site that would cause maximum civilian casualties. While the pair had allegedly considered bombing the train tracks, they had also looked into simpler methods of derailing the train.

“I want to reassure our citizens that while the RCMP believed the accused had the capacity and intent to carry out these criminal acts, there was no imminent threat to the general public, rail employees, train passengers or infrastructure,” the RCMP assistant commissioner said.

The targeting of a train coming into Toronto from New York would fit al-Qaeda’s mission to attack the United States at weak points, although the passengers would have certainly also included many Canadians and citizens of other countries. Al-Qaeda has repeatedly targeted mass transit in an attempt to induct terror by killing large numbers of civilians.

The involvement of the core of al-Qaeda, if proven, would be unusual. The terror group has suffered significant losses since the 9/11 attacks and intelligence officials have been reporting that the major terrorist threat had shifted to regional al-Qaeda affiliates. Michael Peirce, the CSIS Assistant Director of Intelligence, testified last month that groups like Al Shabab in Somalia, the North African-based al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen were the new “sites of power and sites of activity” for al-Qaeda.

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