Canadian authorities announced the arrest of two men, suspected of plotting a massive, Al Qaeda inspired terrorist attack on a passenger train. Chihek Esseghaier, 30, and Raed Jaser, 35, were arrested in Toronto and Montreal, in an operation coordinated closely with the FBI.
The arrests are not thought to be linked to the recent Boston Marathon attack, but the announcement so soon after the atrocities in the US has highlighted the continued threat to the North American continent from terrorists, in particular from small cells or even pairs of individuals, inspired and motivated by - but not necessarily directly connected to - Al Qaeda.
This is not the first time Canadian authorities have broken up a large-scale terrorist attack. In summer 2006, Canadian police arrested 18 suspects as part of a major counter-terrorism operation in southern Ontario. The sweeping arrests exposed a terrorist cell that planned to carry out a number of atrocities, including a massive attack on the Toronto Stock Exchange with explosives-laden trucks, and a plan to behead the Canadian Prime Minister, among other politicians. Although only 11 of the suspects were subsequently convicted, they became known as the "Toronto 18".
Monday's arrests, however, are thought to have disrupted an even larger-scale attack,and Police Assistant Commissioner James Maliza hailed them as a further demonstration of "the expertise and effectiveness of our integrated [counter-terrorism] teams." The alleged plotters are said to have been under surveillance by Canadian authorities for at least a year, and are not Canadian citizens. Intriguingly, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have alleged that the pair were supported by "al-Qaeda elements in Iran" although there is no evidence at this stage of state sponsorship.
The arrests are the latest in a series of successful counter-terrorism operations in Canada. Apart from the "Toronto 18", a number of smaller cases have been unearthed, the most recent of which was in 2010, when three Islamist extremists - including a one-time Canadian Idol contestant - were charged with conspiracy to knowingly facilitate terrorist activities. Two of them were further charged with "participation in the activities of a terrorist group." That case has yet to go to court.