Alex Witt   |  April 27, 2013

New twists in terror plot thwarted in Canada

Toronto Globe Reporter, Colin Freeze, talks with MSNBC’s Alex Witt about the terror plot thwarted in Canada earlier this week. Freeze discusses the suspects and what could have motivated them to carry out the attacks. Freeze also comments on the role of radical Islam and the scope of its threat in Canada.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> there are some new twists today in that terror plot thwarted in canada . two men are accused of plotting to derail a passenger train that runs between new york and montreal. at issue is why one of the suspects who had been convicted of serious crimes was not already deported. joining me now, toronto globe and mail national security reporter collin frees. welcome, collin.

>> thank you.

>> so for those unfamiliar, can you give us a quick sense of this alleged terror plot? how much devastation it might have caused had it some to fruition?

>> that's a very difficult question to answer, alex, because the police say this plot was not imminent and it may have been more aspirational. what we do know is the two men who are arrested stand accused of wanting to derail a passenger train crossing the canada /u.s. border, possibly by taking a bridge out from under the train as it crossed a river. so that could have caused -- they are charged with conspiracy so murder. so you could imagine dozens or scores of people could have died in such an attack.

>> absolutely. these guys are 30 and 35 respectively. what about talk, colin , that they were associated with al qaeda in iran ?

>> that was quite the allegation when police laid charges on monday. they announced that the plot was an al qaeda supported plot and that there were elements in iran who -- of al qaeda who gave guidance and direction for the plot. this was a surprising allegation given that, you know, al qaeda is not a group that would get along with iran 's ayatollahs who are totally part of a different islamic sect.

>> what's interesting here is, you know, we don't typically associate canada with al qaeda terror attacks, especially on your home soil . who you canadians reacting to all this?

>> i think canadians are surprised, but in the last couple months there have been cases of canadians who have died overseas as militants affiliated with al qaeda i fiaffiliated groups in yemen -- sorry in algeria and somalia. so the notion of homegrown terrorist is not new to us, but we have not had any attacks here such as what you saw in the united states in 9/11 or even anything along the lines of what happened in boston this month.

>> yeah. colin , is there discussion that this train that was being targeted ran between montreal and new york , so, in other words, it could still attack the united states in some tangential way, be it with the passengers that were on board or if they decided to blow it up at a place that was maybe, you know, on u.s. soil? i mean, is that something that's been discussed?

>> yeah. unfortunately, police in canada , unlike u.s. police and prosecutors, don't lay out the elements of the case until it comes to trial. so it's very murky. the route of the train i believe is from new york to toronto. somewhere along that route, possibly right at the border, there was a feeling they could derail the train, but we have no concrete elements of how this plot would have gone down, and there's been no recovery of bomb or bomb materials. so, again, whether this was an aspirational attack, it could be. police just said nothing was imminent.

>> look, you're a national security reporter there, how much of a threat is radical islam in canada ?

>> it's a good question. i mean, how much of a threat is radical islam in the united states , in europe? what's happened over the last 10, 12 years is that core al qaeda is a terror group that's been smashed and fragmented and it's now seeking to give -- what's left is seeking to give inspiration to people instead of command and control operations, directing operation its in the united states . so what we're facing in north america , in europe, in canada , in the united states , is self-starting people who take inspiration from al qaeda and can perpetrate attacks something like the boston marathon . it's a real challenge for police and intelligence officials to know what might be coming next.

>> right. what's interesting here, wasn't the alert to police , didn't that originate from within the muslim community ?

>> well, this is something police are highlighting. when they announced the charges they brought a bunch of muslim leaders to toronto and thanked them for creating a climate where muslims in canada could feel comfortable coming forward to police with the information that disrupted the alleged plot. there hasn't been a tremendous amount of conversation between police intelligence agencies and the mainstream muslim community , who, frankly are as much threatened as anybody by those extremists outlying elements that would, you know, use religion to commit an atrocity.

>> all right. well, colin freeze of the toronto globe and mail , thank you so much, colin .