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2 Men Arrested In Thwarted Canadian Train Terror Plot

FBI, U.S. Dept. Of Homeland Security Assist Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Canadian VIA Train

Two men have been arrested in an alleged plot targeting Canadian VIA trains. (Credit: CBS 2)

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TORONTO (CBSNewYork/AP) — Police in Canada have foiled a chilling terror plot against a passenger train.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said Monday that Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, and Raed Jaser, 35, were conspiring to carry out an Al Qaeda-supported attack, but posed no imminent threat, 1010 WINS’ Sonia Rincon reported.

“This is the first known Al Qaeda-planned attack that we’ve experienced in Canada,” RCMP Supt. Doug Best said.

Esseghaier was arrested in Montreal, and was flown to Toronto on Monday. Jaser was arrested in Toronto, officials said. The suspects were due in court Tuesday.

“After an extensive and complex criminal investigation, the RCMP arrested and charged two individuals for terrorism-related offenses,” RCMP Assistant Commissioner James Malizia said.

Both are foreign nationals and not Canadian citizens, officials said. The men were arrested as part of what authorities dubbed “Project SMOOTH.”

Esseghaier and Jaser, who live in Montreal and Toronto, respectively, were “conspiring to carry out a terrorist attack against a VIA passenger train,” according to Canadian law enforcement authorities, who also indicated the plot may have had ties to Iran.

“The individuals were receiving support from Al Qaeda elements located in Iran. There is no information to indicate that these attacks were state-sponsored,” RCMP Assistant Commissioner James Malizia said.

RCMP officials said they had their eyes on the alleged conspirators since August and moved in when they came up with evidence of an overseas link, CBS 2’s Lou Young reported.

Bruce Riedel, a CIA veteran who is now a Brookings Institution senior fellow, said Al Qaeda has had a clandestine presence in Iran since at least 2001 and that neither the terror group nor Tehran speak openly about it.

“The Iranian regime kept some of these elements under house arrest,” he said in an email to The Associated Press. “Some probably operate covertly. AQ members often transit Iran traveling between hideouts in Pakistan and Iraq.”

Both men face charges, including 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, officials said.

“They watched trains and railways in the greater Toronto area. These arrests are the conclusion of a very complex and lengthy investigation, which involved multi-jurisdictional and multi-agency cooperation,” RCMP Chief Superintendent Jennifer Strachan said.

Canadian authorities would not comment on the specific train or route involved. Amtrak currently operates service from New York Penn Station to Montreal and Toronto in coordination with Canada’s VIA service.

“Amtrak is aware of the ongoing investigation and will continue to work with Canadian authorities to assist in their efforts,” Amtrak said in a statement.

The investigation was part of a cross-border operation which also involved the FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“The plot was to derail a train; a passenger train; kill people; hurt people,” said Quebec RCMP Chief Supt. Gaetan Courchesne. “It was a real threat to the economy; a real threat for a lot of reasons.”

U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterintelligence & Terrorism, released a statement Monday afternoon.

“I commend our Canadian counterterrorism partners, particularly the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, for their efforts in stopping a major terrorist plot which was intended to cause significant loss of human life, including New Yorkers,” King said.

The plot is not related to the Boston Marathon bombings last week, CBS News reported.

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(TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)