Home inContext Thwarted Canadian Terrorist Plot Shows Continuing Threat from Al-Qaeda and Iran

Thwarted Canadian Terrorist Plot Shows Continuing Threat from Al-Qaeda and Iran

Michael Johnson

Canadian police arrested Chiheb Esseghaier and Raed Jaser on Monday on suspicion of planning an attack on VIA Rail, Canada’s national railway system. The two non-Canadian citizens had been under surveillance for a year as they planned to target Toronto, Canada’s most populous city.

Esseghaier, the Tunisian-born student, appeared in Canadian court on Wednesday. The 30 year old questioned the court’s legitimacy and the criminal code saying it is “not (a) holy book.” He faces a number of charges including conspiracy to murder and working with a terrorist group. On Tuesday the other suspect in the case, Raed Jaser, was remanded to stay in police custody. While no date has been set for their bail hearings, both suspects will be in court again on May 23rd for a procedural hearing.

Canadian government officials announce the arrest of two men at a press conference in Toronto on Monday, April 22, 2013. (Photo: AP)

Local media reports officials first became alerted to the two after a Toronto imam saw one of them spreading extremist propaganda. Moreover, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Assistant Commissioner James Malizia told reporters at a press conference the suspects took “direction and guidance” from al-Qaeda operatives in Iran. However, he contended the attacks did not appear to be “state-sponsored.”

Tehran denounced the assertion, even though the Islamic Republic holds a complex relationship with al-Qaeda. Instead Ramin Mehmanparast, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, claimed the Islamic Republic “is the biggest victim of terrorism.” Canadian officials are pursuing “Iranophobia” in their agenda he contended.

Iran, a Shiite theocracy, holds conflicting ideology with Sunni extremists, as al-Qaeda does not consider Shiites to be muslim. Nevertheless, al-Qaeda sympathizers and members of Osama Bin Laden’s family were allowed to take refuge in Iran after the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Some leading figures in the terrorist group are suspected of remaining in the country, possibly under house arrest.

The latest foiled plan in Canada continues to show the complexities of relationships between different actors in the Middle East. While tensions between Sunni and Shiites extremists play out in the streets of Baghdad, Homs, Aleppo and Damascus, they often help each other fight against the West.