Canadian police have arrested two men and charged them with plotting to derail a Toronto-area passenger train in an operation that they say was backed by al Qaeda elements in Iran.
“Had this plot been carried out, it would have resulted in innocent people being killed or seriously injured,” Royal Canadian Mounted Police official James Malizia told reporters on Monday.
US officials said the attack would have targeted a rail line between New York and Toronto, a route that travels along the Hudson Valley and enters Canada near Niagara Falls.
The RCMP said it had arrested Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, of Montreal, and Raed Jaser, 35, of Toronto in connection with the plot. Authorities said it was not linked to last week’s Boston Marathon bombings, which killed three people and injured more than 200.
Malizia said they had received “support from al Qaeda elements located in Iran”, but added that there was no sign that the conspiracy, which police described as the first known al Qaeda-backed plot on Canadian soil, had been sponsored by the Iranian state.
Nevertheless, Iran reacted angrily. Canada last year severed diplomatic ties over what it said was Iran’s support for terrorist groups, as well as its nuclear programme and its hostility towards Israel.
Meanwhile, arriving for their bail plea Jaser came to the procedural hearing in Toronto’s Old City Hall courthouse sporting a long black beard and black cap.
Details of the hearing are covered by a publication ban. John Norris, Jaser’s lawyer said: “He denies the allegations and he will vigorously defend them.”
Norris described Jaser as being in a state of “shock and disbelief.”