UPDATE: More details expected today in first known al-Qaida directed plot in Canada

The Canadian Press
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More details may be revealed today about two men charged in what police are calling the first known al-Qaida directed plot in Canada.

A bail hearing is scheduled in a Toronto court for Montreal resident Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, and Toronto area resident Raed Jaser, 35.

The two men were arrested and charged yesterday for allegedly planning to attack a Via Rail passenger train.

The plot had “the direction and guidance” from al-Qaida elements in Iran, but there was “no imminent threat” to anyone, police said.

Iran has denied any link to the two suspects.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said Tuesday that there is “no firm evidence” of any Iranian involvement. He called the Canadian claims part of hostile policies against Tehran.

Authorities have been carrying out search warrants at locations in Toronto and Montreal as part of the investigation.

Half of a duplex was cordoned off by police tape in the Markham, Ont., area northeast of Toronto last night as officers questioned neighbours.

Sanjay Chaudry, who lived in the other half of the duplex, said he didn’t know his neighbour but had seen him going out nearly every day with a woman thought to be his wife.

“It’s strange, surprising, shocking,” he said of the arrests. “I’m worried — what’s happening to my neighbourhood?”

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman told The Canadian Press that the second suspect, Esseghaier, had recently been doing doctoral research in biotechnology at the Institut national de la recherche scientifique, where he was enrolled as a PhD student.

His academic supervisor told The Canadian Press that he couldn’t comment on the case and said the school will likely have more information to share today.

“It was a shock for me,” said Tsuneyuki Ozaki of the Montreal-area institute.

A LinkedIn page says a man with Esseghaier’s name and academic background helped author a number of biology research papers, including on HIV and cancer detection.

It also says the man studied the detection of influenza A virus during graduate research at the University of Sherbrooke.

Several U.S. media outlets have cited sources saying the alleged plot was aimed at a passenger train arriving in Toronto from New York City. Via Rail and Amtrak jointly run routes between Canada and the U.S.

Both Via Rail and Amtrak say they’re working with authorities.

The police investigation named “Project Smooth” involved Canadian and U.S. law enforcement agencies.

The two men came to investigators’ attention after tips came in from the Muslim community and they had been under surveillance since August.

Muslim community leaders, who were briefed on the arrests before they were publicly announced Monday, said one of the suspects is Tunisian and one is from the United Arab Emirates.

The men are not Canadian citizens.

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Earlier story

TORONTO, Ontario — CBC News is reporting that Canadian police and intelligence agencies have thwarted a plot to carry out a major terrorist attack.

Sources tell the network that a number of suspects were arrested this morning in Ontario and Quebec.

The report says the alleged plotters have been under surveillance for more than a year.

CBC News says the investigation was part of a cross-border operation involving Canadian law enforcement agencies, the FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The RCMP is expected to provide more information at a news conference at 3:30 p.m. ET Monday.

Law enforcement officials tell CBC News that the latest arrests are not connected to the Boston Marathon bombings.

Organizations: CBC News, FBI, U.S. Department of Homeland Security.The RCMP

Geographic location: Ontario, Quebec, TORONTO

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