April 22, 2013

Police: 2 arrested in al-Qaida linked Canada plot

A passenger train is believed to have been the target of an al-Qaida-linked plan.

The Associated Press

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A Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer pats a colleague on the back before a news conference in Toronto as the RCMP announce the arrest of two men accused of plotting a terror attack on a passenger train on Monday.

The Associated Press

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Representatives of Toronto's Islamic community attend a news conference in Toronto as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police announce the arrest of two men accused of plotting a terror attack on rail target, in Toronto, Monday April 22, 2013. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Chris Young)

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.

U.S. Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican, said in a statement praising Canadian authorities for the arrests, that the attack was intended "to cause significant loss of human life including New Yorkers."

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.

Muhammad Robert Heft, who runs an outreach organization for Islamic converts, and Hussein Hamdani, a lawyer and longtime advocate in the Muslim community, said one of the suspects is Tunisian and the other is from the United Arab Emirates. Heft and Hamdani were part of a group of Muslim community leaders who were briefed by the RCMP ahead of Monday's announcement.

Authorities were tipped off by members of the community of one of the suspects, Best said. Hamdani said they were told by police that the tip came from the Muslim community and the police said they were very thankful to Muslim community leaders for that.

"It was sort of a thank you moment," Hamdani said. "This tip, this lead, came from the Muslim community. But for the Muslim community we would not be talking about an arrest today. This is evidence and proof that the Canadian Muslim community, rather than a community that should be seen as suspect, is in fact partners for peace and here is the proof of it."

Hamdani said he did not know if anybody in the room for the briefing knew the suspects. He called the al-Qaida connection to the Shiite theocracy of Iran "very strange.

He noted that police said al-Qaida didn't provide material support and that it was more guidance.

"What does that mean exactly?" Hamdani wondered. "It could be words of support or inspiration. It could be 'Here's the idea I think you should use it.'"

A spokeswoman for the University of Sherbrooke near Montreal said Esseghaier studied there in 2008-2009. More recently, he has been doing doctoral research at the Institut national de la recherche scientifique, a spokeswoman at the training university confirmed.

Julie Martineau, a spokeswoman at the research institute, said Esseghaier began working at the center just outside Montreal in 2010 and was pursuing a Ph.D. in nanotechnology.

"We are, of course, very surprised," she said.

A LinkedIn page showing a man with Esseghaier's name and academic background said he helped author a number of biology research papers, including on HIV and cancer detection. The page says he was a student in Tunisia before moving to Canada in the summer of 2008.

The arrests came just a few months after two Canadians were discovered among militants killed in a terrorist siege at a gas plant in Algeria. At least 38 hostages and 29 militants were killed in the siege, including Ali Medlej and Xristos Katsiroubas, two high school friends from London, Ontario.

In 2006, Canadian police foiled the so-called Toronto 18 home grown plot to set off bombs outside Toronto's Stock Exchange, a building housing Canada's spy agency and a military base. The goal was to scare Canada into removing its troops from Afghanistan. The arrests made international headlines and heightened fears in a country where many people thought they were relatively immune from terrorist strikes.

 

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