The Terror Plot in Canada: What You Need to Know

Canada arrests two suspects in a bomb plot and claim they are linked to al-Qaeda and Iran — even though the terrorist group and the Islamic Republic do not quite get along

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Victor Biro / SHIFT Digital / ZUMA PRESS

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigate a house in Toronto on Apr 22, 2013, after they uncovered a plot to derail or bomb a passenger train between the Canadian city and New York City

Updated.

While U.S. authorities (and media) continue their investigation into the origins of last week’s bombings in Boston, police officials north of the border announced Monday that they had arrested two foreign nationals planning an attack with alleged al-Qaeda support. Here’s what you need to know:

1. The Alleged Plot
Two men, Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, and Raed Jaser, 35, were arrested in Montreal and Toronto respectively yesterday. According to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), they had been surveying trains in the Greater Toronto Area and allegedly plotting to derail or bomb a Via passenger train potentially destined to the U.S. (Train attacks are considered to be a hallmark of al-Qaeda strategy, including a brutal series of bombings in Madrid in 2004.) The RCMP alleges that the duo received “direction and guidance” from al-Qaeda elements in Iran, but has so far offered no evidence to substantiate those claims, which Tehran has already dismissed.

Not much is known of the suspects. It is believed that Esseghaier is a Tunisian and Jaser is from the United Arab Emirates. Before his arrest, Esseghaier was a doctoral student at the University of Quebec, studying nanosensors, which are used in medical treatments and can also be found inside microchips. Fellow students have reportedly spoken to the Canadian press of their disquiet over his extremist religious views. The RCMP began tracking the pair after an apparent tip-off from within the Canadian Muslim community. At a hearing on Tuesday, the two were charged with “conspiracy to commit murder, participating in a terrorist organization, conspiracy to interfere with transportation facilities,” according to the Globe and Mail. In addition, Esseghaier was charged with one count of “having directed a person to carry out a terrorist activity.”

2. Al-Qaeda and Iran
The links between al-Qaeda and the Islamic Republic of Iran are tenuous. Though both are viewed with animosity by many in Washington, they are hardly ideological bedfellows. Under the Ayatollahs, Iran styles itself as the worldwide champion of Islam, which is reviled by the Sunni extremists of al-Qaeda. For years, Iran worked against the Taliban in Afghanistan, who gave Osama bin Laden and other key al-Qaeda figures sanctuary and support. There is scant evidence of operational dealings between the Iranian Revolutionary Guards or Hizballah — the Lebanese Shi‘ite organization largely seen as an Iranian proxy — on one hand, and al-Qaeda, on the other. In the past, the U.S. has accused the Iranians of allowing al-Qaeda agents to move freely through Iranian territory. But the Iranians have also played a key role in arresting and detaining various al-Qaeda figures, including members of the bin Laden family, as well as Arab fighters fleeing the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. It seems Tehran attempted to use them as bargaining chips with the U.S. and Arab governments in their neighborhood. Here’s former CIA official and intelligence analyst Bruce Riedel, speaking to al-Monitor last year:

Rather than being secretly in bed with each other as some have argued, al-Qaeda had a fairly hostile relationship with the Iranian regime. To get members of his family out of Iran, for example, bin Laden had an Iranian diplomat kidnapped and then traded. The Iranians released some of his family members in the deal but then double-crossed al-Qaeda by not letting one of his daughters, Fatima, free.

This is hardly the basis for a working relationship. It’s up to the RCMP to elaborate what comprises “al-Qaeda elements” in Iran and what their relationship to the state, if any, is.

3. Iran and Canada
Canada’s fraught relationship with Iran was illustrated in the Oscar-winning film, Argo, when the Canadian embassy in 1979 helped six Americans flee the recently installed revolutionary regime. Tensions flared in 2003 when a Canadian-Iranian photojournalist, Zahra Kazemi, died after being detained and brutally beaten in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison. She was allegedly arrested for taking pictures of political protesters. Another Canadian-Iranian journalist, Maziar Bahari, was held at Evin Prison in 2007, but he was eventually freed after a 118-day ordeal.

Under the Conservative Administration of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, relations have hit rock bottom. Last year, Canada unilaterally closed its embassy in Tehran and expelled Iranian officials from Ottawa. Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird labeled the government in Iran “the most significant threat to global peace and security in the world today.” Harper’s government has also been conspicuously outspoken in its backing of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the latter’s hawkish stance on the threat of Iran’s nuclear program.

The Iranians, of course, are rarely circumspect themselves. Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi described yesterday’s RCMP allegations as “the most ridiculous fake words.”

4. Canada and Terrorism.
After an al-Qaeda-affiliated militia stormed an Algerian natural-gas plant earlier this year, sparking a hostage crisis that left dozens dead, it emerged that two Canadians — high school buddies Ali Medlej and Xris Katsiroubas — were among the assailants slain by Algerian troops. Canadian nationals have been known to venture abroad and join jihadist movements, ranging from Somalia to Afghanistan. But the country’s history of dealing with terrorist activity on its soil does not begin with Islamist extremists. Canada experienced its worst terror attack and aviation disaster in 1985 when Sikh separatists bombed an Air India flight en route from Montreal to London, killing over 300. In recent years, Canadian authorities have arrested and tried ethnic Tamils believed to be agents of the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, an insurgent group deemed terrorist by the U.S. State Department that has been largely quashed by the Sri Lankan government. Canada has also sought to break up suspected front organizations and charities connected to militancy elsewhere — a more comprehensive list of Ottawa’s recent antiterrorism activities can be found here. Last year, Canada brought back Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen and the last Western detainee at Guantánamo Bay, to serve out the remainder of his sentence; Khadr, whose father was an al-Qaeda operative, wound up in Guantánamo as a 15-year-old and became a cause célèbre for human-rights group irate with the murky legalities of the U.S.’s war on terror.

9 comments
anti-government
anti-government

"Terrorism" is a word used by the powerful in an effort to keep the powerless from emulationg the powerful by using force to get their way in the world. Our bombs have killed more people in the past 100 years than all the trrorist bombs in the history of the world.

WE ARE THE TERRORISTS!

MarkDiaz
MarkDiaz

Thank you for an excellent article. As a Boston resident I was surprised to hear of this potential train attack, especially so close to the Marathon race Bombing. I WANT TO THANK THE CANADIAN MUSLIM COMMUNITY FOR THEIR INVOLVEMENT IN THWARTING THE ATTACK. 

Peace be with you.  

enita
enita

In the aftermath of Boston terror attack, most Canadians may well feel worried about the potential danger committed by insane terrorists. in a sense, no country is completely free from such terrorism. Yesterday, a parcel was mailed to the defense minister of South Korea, in which contained white powder and a short note which warns his hawakish stance toward North Korea. For now, it remains to be seen who did it, but evidently the perpetrator must be the one who is supported by North Korea.  A couple of weeks ago, a major bank  in Korea was hacked, and as a result all the  business transaction was paralyzed for a day. It was later reported that the hacking had been conducted by North Korean profession hacker group. It's been three decades since cold war ended. And chances are slim that massive international war will break out. But more unable to repress our astonishment are unexpected terror attacks which make our life completely chaotic. In this regard, more collaborative measures through international codperation should be taken to root out any kind of terrorism.  

tomsquawk
tomsquawk like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

"an apparent tip off from within the Canadian Muslim community" if this is true, hats off to the community



MichaelStephenson
MichaelStephenson like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

Our own government refuses to call the Fort Hood shooting Islamic terrorism, and that's with the shooter shouting Allahu Ackbar as he killed our soldiers. Disgraceful  Political correctness got those soldiers killed. Obama would be fine with it happening again as long as he doesn't have to let that phrase "Islamic terrorism" pass his lips.


I'll say it again: Disgraceful.

knightsbridge
knightsbridge like.author.displayName 1 Like

ISLAMIC JIHAD.Unless we name the ideology and expose it we will see it happening again.We have to to see the connection of Islamic Jihad in London arrest,Boston,Malay,Syria.....9/11,7/7,Madrid,Bally..... We have to study this ideology and expose and fight the ideology not the people .The Muslims should not object us exposing extremist and fundamentals as long as we differentiate between normal Muslim and them (the extremist).A real study should not be based on what they tell us and want  us to hear.

almonjer
almonjer like.author.displayName 1 Like

People you are being grossly mislead. What is going to happen is what has happened in Detroit, Boston, Little Rock, Ft. Hood, Times Square-the terrorist are going to beat Homeland Security (DHS is the DMV of security), and YOU are going to see your children die, family die and get maimed-AND you are going to lose your freedoms to the point the US looks like the Middle East, Chechnya, North Africa. American POLITICIANS have imported the Muslim wars to the US. You will not be able to go to the mall, movies, football games-nothing in the very near future.  Almost everything American citizens are being told about  terrorists is a flat out LIE, inaccurate, or irrelevant.  Did you know Bin Laden stated that his main goals were to 1) Get America to invade Muslim countries 2) To change our society into a society like the Middle East WAR lifestyle where we are dodging bombs like they are-and we have done exactly what he wanted us to.  The difference between me and the so called "experts"-the terrorists in the Middle East, Al Jazeera, and 3 highly vaunted intelligence agencies believe, follow, and seek advice from me...but NOT DHS-strange hunh?

MarkDiaz
MarkDiaz

@almonjer  Of course your government lies and mis-leads you..But that's not the point. IMO. 

 While vigilance is crucial for security, I'd rather take my chances and be able to walk around freely than be subject to arbitrary search. We are still a fairly free society and one of the risks of that is we are open to attack from enemies.  I do not want to live in a concrete bunker. or in a closed community. 

Our invasion of Muslim countries has not really worked out. It has destroyed our economy and taught the enemy how to kill us. Not a good equation. If bin Laden wanted the US to be more like a Muslim country, I honestly do not think that will ever happen. I have been to a Muslim country, and as much as I value the Muslim religion, I'd rather be able to buy a beer and not worry about being killed by some self-appointed conservative Muslim enforcer. I think the rest of the US would agree with me.