Tuesday, April 23, 2013

RCMP arrests two in terrorist-related plot against VIA Rail passenger train

Aboard VIA, Ottawa to Toronto, during my cross-Canada trip.
Photo by Sue Frause
Terrorism knows no borders. A week after the horrific Boston Marathon bombing, Canada is in the news.  On April 22, 2013 the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) arrested two individuals. They were charged with conspiring to carry out a terrorist attack against a VIA Rail passenger train. The accused were charged under sections 248, 235 (1), 83.2, 83.18, 83.21 of the Criminal Code of Canada. The targeted VIA Rail route was between New York and Toronto.

In a press release issued on April 22 from Ottawa, the RCMP stated that as a result of extensive collaborative efforts, the RCMP was able to disrupt the threat early. "While the RCMP believed that these individuals had the capacity and intent to carry out these criminal acts, there was no imminent threat to the general public, rail employees, train passengers or infrastructure," stated the RCMP. VIA Rail reiterated that in its official statement from headquarters in Montreal on April 22: 
"Thanks to an unprecedented cooperation between law enforcement and the security units of various departments, VIA Rail and CN, at no time was there an imminent threat ot the VIA Rail passengers, employees or the general public. We cooperate with all involved in ensuring the safety and security of our passengers, our employees and the public. We do not comment on law enforcement activities. We acknowledge the work and dedication of the agencies involved."
The two accused are Chiheb Esseghaier and Raed Jaser, who live in the Montreal and Toronto area, conspiring to carry out a terrorist attack against a VIA passenger train. Charges include conspiring to carry out an attack against, and conspiring to murder persons unknown for the benefit of it, at the direction of, or in association with a terrorist group. 

The RCMP investigation named Project Smooth was coordinated by RCMP-led Integrated National Security Enforcement Teams (INSETs) in Montreal and Toronto, in close collaboration of its domestic partners and the FBI. 

Security on both US (Amtrak) and Canada (VIA) trains appears to be pretty lax. During my ten-day cross country train adventure from Halifax to Vancouver in 2009, my bags were never checked, nor did I encounter any drug or bomb sniffing dogs. Interestingly enough, when traveling southbound on Amtrak Cascades from Vancouver BC to Seattle, passengers go through a US border pre-clearance and airport type x-ray machine at Vancouver's Pacific Central Station in Vancouver -- but there's no such security when you depart Seattle for Vancouver.