Who are they and why did they allegedly want to kill Canada Day revellers in Victoria?
That’s the biggest unanswered question after police announced the arrest of a Surrey man and woman on terrorism-related charges in a plot to detonate pressure cooker bombs outside the Legislature July 1.
Early attention focused on music purportedly posted online by John Stewart Nuttall, including death-metal rock songs titled “In League With Satan” and “The End of the World.”
Meanwhile, Nuttall’s lawyer described him as a convert to Islam and neighbours told reporters the two lived simply and listened to Islamic recordings. Nuttall also has a criminal record and a history as a drug addict.
B.C. Muslim Association president Musa Ismail said it dismays Muslims that a would-be act of terrorism right here in B.C. would be associated with their religion.
“It creates this ill feeling in your stomach – here we go again,” he said in an interview.
Ismail said Nuttall and his co-accused Amanda Marie Korody are not known to be active in local mosques or the B.C. Muslim community.
“We don’t know these people, we’ve never seen these people,” he said. “We are proud citizens, we are proud Canadians. These two individuals have nothing to do with Islam, as far as we know.”
And while the entire B.C. Muslim community is “absolutely delighted” that Mounties intervened to stop a “potentially huge disaster”, Ismail said the RCMP’s description of the Canadian-born duo as inspired by Al-Qaeda is an “ill-worded reference” that will focus undue attention on Muslims.
Al-Qaeda’s beliefs and actions contradict the basic tenets of Islam, Ismail said, and to draw any such connection is unfair.
“These are just individuals who copied whatever happened in Boston,” Ismail said, referring to the Boston Marathon bombers who also used pressure cookers as improvised explosive devices.
Neighbour says she called police after hearing #yyj bomb suspect Nuttall screaming into a phone early AM about Islam & blowing stuff up.
— shane woodford (@WoodfordCKNW980) July 2, 2013
Security experts say Al-Qaeda and similar groups have sought to foment home-grown terror in North America, in part through the use of websites that instruct those inclined to terrorism on how to make a bomb – regardless of their motivation.
Some have predicted Al-Qaeda would target Canada over its participation in the war in Afghanistan.
SFU terrorism expert Joshua Labove said the motive for the alleged plot is unclear, except that the RCMP have ruled out environmental activism.
“Beyond that, it’s anybody’s guess at this point,” he said. “It could be any number of grievances and any number of issues – or none at all.”
Regardless of any connections to Islam, Labove said Nuttall and Korody appear “unsophisticated” and under-capitalized.
He also called the RCMP’s suggestion they are “inspired” by Al-Qaeda a “strange turn of phrase” adding it might be best to consider them disconnected from Canadian society and radicalized.
As much as observers want to search for a reason, he added, “their extremist view could just be the harm of others for no apparent reason.”
Labove said the most interesting revelation by Mounties was that the investigation began in February and dragged on for five months up until the point where bombs – which police ensured were inert – were to go off.
“A lot of folks are going to ask, ‘Why let this go on as long as it did, why let it go on all the way to Canada Day?’ I think they wanted to develop a really clear lock-tight case for prosecution.”
RCMP officials stressed the two are charged under standard Criminal Code provisions, not the special anti-terrorism laws that were passed after the 9/11 attacks or provisions for enemy combatants captured overseas.
Labove said Mounties must have been confident they could stop or prevent any threat to the public as the alleged plot developed and explosives were prepared.
“When you let the pot boil you’ve got to watch and be very, very mindful of what you’re doing.”
Labove said it’s likely a police undercover agent working with the two was in position to either render the bombs safe, swap them for fakes, or perhaps had a role in their placement.