Terrorist plot foiled in Canada

Working with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, Canadian authorities say they have broken up a plot to attack a passenger train somewhere between Toronto and New York City.  CBC News reports:

Canadian police say they have arrested two men and thwarted a plot to carry out a major terrorist attack on a Via passenger train in the Greater Toronto Area.

The two accused are Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, of Montreal, and Raed Jaser, 35, from Toronto. They have been charged with conspiracy to carry out a terrorist attack and “conspiring to murder persons unknownn for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a terrorist group.”

The two men arrested are not Canadian citizens, police said Monday, but would not provide any details about their nationalities.

It looks as if this plot had very clear foreign support and direction:

The RCMP accused the two men of conspiring to commit an “al-Qaeda-supported” attack.

Police said the two accused were getting “direction and guidance” from al-Qaeda elements in Iran. There was no information to suggest the attacks were state sponsored, police said.

The attack was reportedly caught in the planning stages and was “not imminent,” although the Canadians are describing it as a very credible threat.  The individuals in question have been under surveillance for over a year, and are apparently not connected to the Boston Marathon bombers.  However, they do fit into a disturbing pattern of radicalized youth entering the global terror machine from Canada, summarized by the National Post:

Last week, the RCMP said it was looking into whether a Canadian, Mahad Dhore, had died while taking part in a suicide attack on the courts in the Somali capital Mogadshu. The York University student left Toronto in 2009 and allegedly joined the armed Islamist group Al Shabab.

The RCMP has also been investigating two young classmates from London, Ont., who died in Algeria in January while apparently taking part in a terrorist attack at a gas plant. A third member of the circle is imprisoned in Mauritania on charges he had been recruited to fight with Al Qaeda in Mali.

Testifying last month before a Parliamentary committee, a Canadian Security Intelligence Service official said the terrorist threat had become more diffuse, with regional affiliates playing a greater role as the core of Al Qaeda had been diminished.

Michael Peirce, the CSIS Assistant Director of Intelligence, said groups like Al Shabab in Somalia, the North African-based Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen were the new ???sites of power and sites of activity??? for al-Qaeda.

???This means there???s a regional distribution of the threat, and that diffusion, creating a regional distribution, leads to a greater risk of individuals travelling. Now there are a greater number of areas to travel [to], a greater number of affiliated Al Qaeda organizations to join, and that has increased the risk,??? he said.

A shift of tactics to lower-profile, less complex attacks would be troubling in combination with this diffusion of the terrorist command structure.  It turned out to be a chillingly simple proposition for the Tsarnaevs to wreak bloody havoc at the Boston Marathon.  Trains would make highly vulnerable targets.  For that matter, a few pressure-cooker bombs dropped at busy shopping malls on the weekend could result in horrible carnage.  Authorities in every Western nation have to be on guard for this kind of tiny, loosely supervised “cell” and the sort of attack they’re well suited to carry out.