At a press conference this afternoon, Canadian police revealed they had thwarted a terrorist plot to derail a passenger train operating somewhere in the Toronto area. Calling the bust a "multi-jurisdictional" effort, one which involved both Canadian and American law-enforcement agencies, authorities with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police offered few details but said they had taken into custody two men: Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, and Raed Jaser, 35, neither of whom is a Canadian citizen.
"We are alleging that these two individuals took steps and conducted activities to initiate a terrorist attack," said Chief Superintendent Jennifer Strachan. Assistant RCMP Commissioner James Malizia added that Esseghaier and Jaser were being supported by "al-Qaeda elements in Iran," though he said there was no evidence to suggest the attack was state sponsored (experts note that an al-Qaeda connection to Iran is quite strange).
Today's arrests were reportedly the culmination of months of work in an investigation called "Operation Smooth," a cross-border project that teams up Canadian cops with the FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The FBI's involvement and the RCMP's assertion that a threat was never "imminent," however, sound like hallmarks of a recent crop of terrorist threats that weren't—poorly planned plots cooked up and aided along by FBI officials who then arrest "terrorists" who probably wouldn't have become radicalized without the assistance and goading of undercover cops.
In a New York Times op-ed column from last year, "Terrorist Plots, Hatched by the FBI," author David K. Shipler went after these leading sting operations, calling their validity into question. "This is legal, but is it legitimate?" Shipler asked. "Without the FBI, would the culprits commit violence on their own? Is cultivating potential terrorists the best use of the manpower designed to find the real ones?"
Presumably the answer to all those questions is no. And though it's very possible that the men arrested today were very dangerous, very methodical criminals, it's good to remember that our "war on terror" is not without a ginned up boogie man here and there.
[Image via AP]