April 22, 2013 - 1:40 PM
by The Canadian Press on Monday, April 22, 2013 3:40pm
TORONTO, Canada – Two terror suspects who were arrested for allegedly plotting to attack a Via passenger train received “direction and guidance” from al-Qaida elements in Iran, the RCMP said Monday.
The suspects — identified as Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, and Raed Jaser, 35, — were arrested Monday morning in Montreal and Toronto.
“While the RCMP believed the accused 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,” RCMP Assistant Commissioner James Malizia said at a news conference.
Dubbed “Project Smooth,” the investigation was part of a cross-border operation involving Canadian law enforcement agencies, the FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Malizia said protecting Canada’s national security entails the “awareness and active engagement” of all citizens.
Police said the suspects were conspiring to derail a passenger train but refused to elaborate beyond saying the plot had the “direction and guidance” from al-Qaida elements in Iran.
“Now I can tell you that there is no information to indicate that these attacks were state-sponsored,” Malizia said.
RCMP Supt. Doug Best said “this is the first known al-Qaida planned attack that we’ve experienced in Canada.”
He said the suspects have been in the country legally for a “considerable period of time” but are not Canadian citizens.
The two men are charged with 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.
The arrests come only four months after two young Canadians were found among militants killed in a terrorist siege at a gas plant in Algeria. The siege killed at least 38 hostages and 29 militants, including Ali Medlej and Xristos Katsiroubas, two high school friends from London, Ont.
Authorities said Monday the latest arrests were not related to the Algerian attack or last week’s Boston Marathon bombings.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said the arrests show 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,” he said in the House of Commons.
“Canada will not tolerate terrorist activity and we will not be used as a safe haven for terrorists or those who support terrorist activity.”
U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Jacobson congratulated the RCMP on the arrests, saying they were the result of extensive cross-border co-operation.
“Dedicated professionals on both sides of the border brought these arrests to fruition, and I thank them for their service and hard work,” Jacobson said in a statement.
“We all need to remain vigilant in confronting threats and keeping North America safe and secure.”
The two suspects are expected to appear in court Tuesday.
Here is the RCMP release on the case:
“Today, the RCMP arrested two individuals and charged them with conspiring to carry out a terrorist attack against a VIA passenger train. The accused have been charged under sections 248, 235 (1), 83.2, 83.18, 83.21 of the Criminal Code of Canada. As a result of extensive collaborative efforts, the RCMP was able to disrupt the threat early. 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.
“The two accused, Chiheb ESSEGHAIER and Raed JASER, who live in the Montreal and Toronto area were conspiring to carry out a terrorist attack against a VIA passenger train. 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.
“The RCMP investigation named Project SMOOTH, was coordinated by RCMP-led Integrated National Security Enforcement Teams (INSETs) in Montreal and Toronto with the close collaboration of domestic partners and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI). The RCMP would like to thank its INSET partners including the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Canada Border Services Agency, Toronto Police Service, York Regional Police, Peel Regional Police, Ontario Provincial Police, Durham Regional Police, the Sûreté du Québec and the service de police de la Ville de Montréal. The RCMP is also grateful for the valuable assistance of the FBI, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Transport Canada, VIA Rail and CN Police. These exceptional collaborative efforts directly contributed to making 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,” stated Assistant Commissioner James Malizia, responsible for Federal Policing Operations. “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.”
The public is always encouraged to bring any suspicious activities to the RCMP’s attention through the National Security Information Network (1-800-420-5805) or by contacting the police in their community.”
Here is the full statement from Public Safety Minister Vic Toews:
“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 co-operation 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.”
And here is a release from U.S. Ambassador David Jacobson in response to the news:
“I congratulate the RCMP on the arrest of two individuals on terrorism-related charges. These arrests were the result of extensive cross-border co-operation, which is the hallmark of our relationship. Dedicated professionals on both sides of the border brought these arrests to fruition, and I thank them for their service and hard work.
“This is an example of the United States and Canada working together to protect our citizens. It underscores the fact that we face serious and real threats, and that security is a shared responsibility. We all need to remain vigilant in confronting threats and keeping North America safe and secure.”
News from © The Canadian Press, 2013