NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The foiled terror plot against a Canadian passenger train targeted a line that travels to New York City, authorities said Tuesday night.
Meanwhile, the plot has raised questions about the safety of passenger trains in the Tri-State area and prompted responses from New York City’s mayor and police commissioner.
Raed Jaser, 35, made a brief appearance in a Toronto court room and was told to appear in court again next month. Jaser’s suspected accomplice, Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, was scheduled to appear in court in Montreal later Tuesday.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Assistant Commissioner James Malizia said the suspects had “direction and guidance” from al Qaeda members in Iran, though there was no reason to think the planned attacks were state-sponsored.
Police said the men did not get financial support from al Qaeda, but declined to provide more details.
Charges against the two men include conspiring to carry out an attack and murder people in association with a terrorist group. Police said the men are not Canadian citizens and had been in Canada a “significant amount of time,” but declined to say where they were from or why they were in the country.
The arrests in Montreal and Toronto bolstered allegations by some governments and experts of a relationship of convenience between Iran and al-Qaeda.
Meanwhile, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Tuesday that no big city is immune to terrorism. But he said New York is probably safer than any other big city when asked to comment about the terror arrests in Canada.
The Lower Manhattan Security Initiative keeps track of 4,000 scenes around the clock, some equipped with smart cameras.
“Basically, you put in a formula called video analytics, you put in a formula or an algorithm that sets either the shape or motion or color – that sort of thing – that can act as an alarm,” Kelly told reporters including WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb.
A long wall equipped with floor-to-ceiling flat screen panels allows officers to keep an electronic eye on Lower Manhattan and Midtown.
“I think if we learned anything from 9/11, from Boston, from terrorist activities around the world – you can never let your guard down,” said Bloomberg.
While Kelly admitted a terror attack like the one last week in Boston was possible in New York, he added that this technology serves as a deterrent to some would-be terrorists.
NYPD spokesman Paul Browne earlier declined to discuss reports that the plot targeted a passenger line between New York City and Canada. Bloomberg said Canada has kept New York posted on the investigation. He also declined to discuss details.
The mayor added that New York has 1,000 police officers focused on intelligence and counterterrorism. He said responders know what to do in case “something terrible” does happen. But prevention is the “first job.”
The investigation surrounding the planned attack was part of a cross-border operation involving Canadian law enforcement agencies, the FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
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.”
Strachan said they were targeting a route, but did not say whether it was a cross border route. Amtrak currently operates service from New York Penn Station to Montreal and Toronto in coordination with Canada’s VIA service.
Best said the duo had been under investigation since last fall.
Via Rail said that “at no time” were passengers or members of the public in imminent danger.
In Washington, Amtrak president Joe Boardman said the Amtrak Police Department would continue to work with Canadian authorities to assist in the investigation. Via Rail and Amtrak jointly operate trains between Canada and the U.S.
Long Island Rep. Peter King, chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterintelligence and Terrorism, praised Canadian authorities “for their efforts in stopping a major terrorist plot which was intended to cause significant loss of human life, including New Yorkers.”
Officials have said the transportation sector, including U.S. railways, remain attractive targets for al Qaeda.
Earlier this month, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly met with members of the NYPD and Amtrak-led Northeast Corridor Coalition to review security of the railways and major transportation hubs between New York and Washington, D.C.
“Transportation systems worldwide continue to be a target and especially here in New York, where five of the 16 terrorist plots against us since 9/11 have been aimed at mass transit,” Kelly said in a statement. “We’re doing everything we can to protect this vital component of our infrastructure.”
In 2009, officials arrested Najibullah Zazi, who admitted to receiving al Qaeda weapons and explosives training in Pakistan, officials said. Zazi was born in Afghanistan and later moved to Queens with his family.
Zazi planned to use explosives to attack major New York City transit hubs — including Grand Central Terminal and the Times Square station — while riding 1, 2, 3 and 6 lines during rush hour, authorities said.
He later testified against Adis Medunjanin, who was convicted and sentenced last year in connection with the plot. Zarein Ahmedzay, a New York cabbie whose job was to pick out their terror targets, also testified.
The men said they were angered by U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, according to authorities.
Security efforts on Amtrak include explosive detection, Vapor Wake K-9 teams and passenger and baggage screenings. In addition, Kelly said more than 100 NYPD officers carry radiation detection devices in and around train cars and platforms.
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