RCMP Arrest Two in a Planned "Al Qaeda-Supported" VIA Rail Attack
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RCMP Arrest Two in a Planned “Al Qaeda-Supported” VIA Rail Attack

Two men were apparently planning to derail a VIA train with the "guidance and support" of Al Qaeda in Iran.

RCMP Chief Superintendent Gaétan Courchesne (left) and RCMP Assistant Commissioner James Malizia (right) at a press conference today.

At a press conference this afternoon RCMP officials announced that two men have been arrested and face charges in conjunction with an attack they were allegedly planning against a particular VIA rail route (though the RCMP would not confirm which one). Chiheb Esseghaier (30, Montreal) and Raed Jaser (35, Toronto) face multiple charges for “activities related to terrorism”—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”—and will appear at Old City Hall for a bail hearing tomorrow.

RCMP Assistant Commissioner James Malizia emphasized that there was no imminent threat to the public, and that the significance of today’s arrest lies in the support the suspects received “from Al Qaeda elements located in Iran.”

The investigation, dubbed Project SMOOTH, began in August 2012 and was led by the RCMP. Multiple other agencies participated in the investigation, including the FBI, the Toronto Police Service, York and Peel region services, and the OPP. Officials today declined to comment on whether further arrests were expected, or on the details of the planned attack, as their investigation is ongoing. They did say that the support Al Qaeda provided “was in the form of direction and guidance” (rather than material support like the provision of money). A search warrant for the men’s homes was being executed “as we speak,” explained Chief Superintendent Jennifer Strachan, so the RCMP was unable to say whether the suspects were in possession of explosive devices or other weapons. She was also not yet able to explain what exactly the suspects had done, saying only that they “took steps and conducted activities to initiate a terrorist attack.”

“There is no information to indicate that these attacks were state-sponsored,” Malizia added. All the RCMP officials speaking today made a point of saying that while the threat was real, officials were monitoring the situation closely: “I want to reassure our citizens that 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.”