TORONTO/OTTAWA Canada's Muslim community, which alerted police to an alleged plot to attack a passenger train that led to two arrests this week, said on Tuesday imams were ready to report radical members who seemed ready to cross a line.
Police arrested Raed Jaser of Toronto and Chiheb Esseghaier of Montreal on Monday and said they had been investigating them since last fall after a tip from the Muslim community in Toronto. The men appeared in separate courts on Tuesday.
Muslims comprise around one million of Canada's 34.5 million population.
While relations between Muslims and law enforcement are generally not as tense as they can be in the large Muslim communities in France and Britain, Canadian spy agency officials have often expressed concern about the dangers posed by radicalized youth.
Naseer Irfan Syed, a lawyer who initially approached police on behalf of a Toronto imam who was concerned about Jaser, said community figures had to figure out what was just angry talk and when there was a real threat.
"People have to realize that the community leaders and imams are concerned about these accusations and are responsible people and they will report to the authorities when necessary," he told Reuters.
"But at the same time they will also exercise judgment so it is not done frivolously or in a knee-jerk fashion," he said. Syed declined to name the imam who spoke with police over the train plot.
Both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Public Safety Minister Vic Toews stood up in Parliament on Tuesday to thank the Muslim community.
MUSLIM "PARTNERS FOR PEACE"
Canada's commitment to protecting minorities is enshrined in the country's Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as a number of Supreme Court judgments.
Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations, also stressed the importance of the imam's decision last year to tip off police.
"This is a clear demonstration that Canadian Muslims, whose welfare is tied to that of our fellow citizens, are in fact partners for peace," he told a news conference in Ottawa.
"We think it's an important thing to acknowledge the role that Muslims are playing and regularly play in outreach work. We have regular contact with security agencies."
Canadian police briefed Muslim representatives before publicly announcing the arrests on Monday, something they have done in similar cases in the past.
The most serious Canadian plot involving Muslims occurred in 2006, when police arrested and charged nearly 20 Toronto-area men accused of planning to plant bombs at various Canadian targets. Eleven of them were convicted.
Gardee said the community was aware of the risks of radialized youth and noted that groups of imams had in 2005 and 2010 condemned terrorism in any form.
"It's a concern that we take very seriously and it's something we're continuously working to address. Can more be done? More can always be done and that's why we're reaching out to security agencies," he said.
Christian Leuprecht, an expert in terrorism at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, said the tip-off reflected extensive efforts by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to improve ties with Muslims.
"One of the key things, and what makes us very different from the United States, is that the RCMP has always very explicitly separated building relationships with local communities from the intelligence gathering side of the house," he told Reuters.
Gardee said he was confident Canadians would see the plot as the "alleged criminal and misguided actions of a few" who did not reflect or represent Muslims as a whole.
"Our message to anyone who espouses this ideology of violence is this: you have nothing to do with our faith," he said.
(Writing by David Ljunggren; Editing by Janet Guttsman and David Storey)