TORONTO — Two men were arrested and charged with plotting a terrorist attack against a Canadian passenger train with support from al-Qaida in Iran, police said Monday. The case bolstered allegations by some governments and experts of a relationship of convenience between Shiite-led Iran and the predominantly Sunni Arab terrorist network.
Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, and Raed Jaser, 35, had “direction and guidance” from al-Qaida members in Iran, though there was no reason to think the planned attack was state-sponsored, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Assistant Commissioner James Malizia said. Police said the men did not get financial support from al-Qaida.
“This is the first known al-Qaida-planned attack that we’ve experienced in Canada,” Superintendent Doug Best said.
Officials in Washington and Toronto said it had no connections to this past week’s bombings at the Boston Marathon.
Iran’s ties to al-Qaida
The arrests in Montreal and Toronto raised questions about Iran’s murky relationship with the terrorist network. Bruce Riedel, a Brookings Institution senior fellow, said al-Qaida has had a clandestine presence in Iran since at least 2001, and that neither the terror group nor Tehran speak openly about it.
“(Al-Qaida) members often transit Iran traveling between hideouts in Pakistan and Iraq,” he wrote in an email.
This past fall, the Obama administration offered as much as $12 million for information leading to the capture of two al-Qaida leaders based in Iran. The U.S. State Department described them as key facilitators in sending extremists to Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. Treasury Department also announced financial penalties against one of the men.
Monday’s 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, adding that they were targeting a route, but did not say whether it was a cross-border route.
Charges against the 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 but that they had been in Canada a “significant amount of time.” Police declined to say where they were from or why they were in Canada. Their bail hearing was set for today.