TORONTO – Two people have been arrested on conspiracy charges in connection with an alleged plot to derail a VIA passenger train.
The arrests were announced by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police during a press conference, Monday afternoon.
The two accused – Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, and Raed Jaser, 35 – live in Montreal and the Toronto area.
“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,” RCMP officials said in a statement.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
The RCMP investigation, which is named Project SMOOTH, was coordinated by RCMP-led Integrated National Security Enforcement Teams in Montreal and Toronto in collaboration with other Canadian law-enforcement agencies and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations.
“While the RCMP believed that these individuals 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,” police said in a statement.
Officials allege the plot is linked to al-Qaeda elements in Iran.
RCMP officials have not said what portion of the VIA rail line was to be target, some media outlets are quoted U.S. officials as saying the alleged plot involved attacking a train along the line between Toronto and New York City.
VIA rail trains cross through Niagara Falls and into New York State across a rail bridge across the Niagara River.
There is apparently no connection between the alleged plot detailed Monday and bomb attacks in Boston, MA last week.
RCMP Assistant Commissioner James Malizia had this to say of the arrests:
“Each and every terrorist arrest the RCMP makes sends a message and illustrates our strong resolve to root out terrorist threats and keep Canadians and our allies safe. A meaningful response to these threats begins on Canadian streets and in Canadians homes and the RCMP works with all their partners, including communities across Canada, in the fight against terrorism.”
VIA Rail issued the following statement later in the day.
“Thanks to an unprecedented cooperation between law enforcement and the security units of various departments, VIA Rail and CN, at no time was there an imminent threat to the VIA Rail passengers, employees or the general public. We cooperate with all involved in ensuring the safety and security of our passengers, our employees and the public. We do not comment on law enforcement activities. We acknowledge the work and dedication of the agencies involved.”
Canada’s Public Safety Minister Vic Toews released this statement:
“Good afternoon and thank you for coming.
“The first responsibility of any government is to ensure the safety and security of its citizens.
“Our government takes this responsibility very seriously and we have strengthened the legislative and operational framework of our security agencies to carry out that mandate.
“As the RCMP have just announced, they have arrested two individuals as the result of an ongoing investigation into terrorism-related activities.
“Today’s arrests demonstrate that terrorism continues to be a real threat to Canada.
“The success of Operation SMOOTH is due to the fact that Canada works very closely with international partners to combat terrorism.
“I would like to commend the RCMP, CSIS, local law enforcement and all the agencies involved for their collaboration with security and law enforcement partners, and the thoroughness of the investigation that has led to these charges.
“I would also like to thank the FBI for their assistance throughout this investigation and their cooperation in bringing it to a successful conclusion.
“Operation Smooth is an example of Canada’s long-standing and productive intelligence sharing relationship with domestic and international partners.
“This is a key component of Canada’s Counter-Terrorism Strategy and fundamental to protecting Canadians from terrorist threats.
“Our Government remains unwavering in its commitment to protect Canadians and support the global fight against terrorism.
“Preventing, countering, and prosecuting terrorism is a priority for our Government.
“Canada will not tolerate terrorist activity and we will not be used as a safe haven for terrorists or those who support terrorist activity.
“When terrorism offences occur it is important that they be prosecuted to the full extent of Canadian law.
“Our Government will continue to be vigilant and take the steps necessary to protect Canadians and their families, and our allies who share our common values.
“Canadians can be assured that our government will stand firm in our commitment to protecting this country from terrorists and the fear they hope to generate.
“As this has been an ongoing operational matter that will now go before the courts, I will conclude my statement and will not be taking questions.