In the midst of Canada Day fanfare Monday, an inconspicuous couple strolled the grounds of the B.C. legislature with pressure cookers full of shrapnel and what they believed were active explosives. The bombs were hidden near the legislature building and left to detonate amongst 40,000 revellers.
According to the RCMP, John Stewart Nuttall, 39, and Amanda Marie Korody, 29, had committed to their intended day of terror in early March, settling on Nuttall’s former hometown of Victoria during a national holiday for the senseless act.
But unbeknownst to the Surrey couple, their every move – from site selection to bomb making to their retreat back to the Lower Mainland – had been meticulously monitored under the watchful eye of the RCMP and other federal intelligence agencies.
At a press conference Tuesday, RCMP Asst. Commissioner. James Malizia refused to say if undercover officers were working with the duo, but admitted the improvised explosive devices were under police control at all times.
If proven in court, perhaps the most unsettling aspect of Nuttall’s and Korody’s descent into indiscriminate violence is their “self-radicalization” in the absence of clear political motivation or connection to a terrorist network, said University of Victoria professor Scott Watson, an expert in international terrorism.
“This seems to be an escalation of criminality or criminal violence, not necessarily an escalation of political protest,” Watson said, after reviewing Nuttall’s convictions for mischief, robbery, weapons possession, assault and parole violations throughout the Capital Region since 1997. Korody has no criminal record.
Most people who commit terrorist acts become involved in social and political movements, but the Canada Day suspects “appear to be two disgruntled Canadians who have read al-Qaeda material online and then have decided to take this type of action,” Watson said.
Police said the pair were “inspired by al-Qaeda ideology,” and neighbours in Surrey reported hearing Nuttall shouting about jihad on the phone.
“Likely very early on, these people were operating in online networks and likely triggered the attention of (the Canadian Security Intelligence Service) or perhaps U.S. intelligence networks. From that point on, it appears as though the Canadian authorities were out in front,” Watson said.
Last May, the federal government released a 2011 review that studied the root causes of radicalization, only to conclude there were few “smoking gun” factors that led people to commit terrorist acts.
“Individuals with psychological conditions (that are often associated with criminal or anti-social activities) do not have the attention span, commitment, or course of action to conceive of and carry out terrorist activity,” conclude the authors of Radicalization in the National Economic Climate.
But it appears Nuttall and Korody, both welfare recipients with methadone prescriptions, were focused strongly enough on their task to warrant the attention of the RCMP’s national anti-terrorism squad. What they did and how much violence they intended to inflict is still unclear.
The pair are charged with making or possessing an explosive device, conspiracy to commit an indictable offence, and knowingly facilitating terrorist activity. Their next court appearance is July 8 in Surrey.
Victoria was the site of at least one terrorist plot in the past, the Millennium bomber plot in 2000. Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian member of al-Qaeda, assembled bomb materials while staying at a Vancouver motel, then loaded them in the trunk of his car and travelled to Victoria.
Ressam attempted to enter the U.S. on the MV Coho ferry from Victoria to Washington, but he was arrested by U.S. border security in Port Angeles.
Public never at risk, police say
RCMP Asst. Commissioner James Malizia said police were notified of the terrorist plot by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service in February and then began their own four-month investigation.
Police believe the threat was real, but “at no time was the security of the public at risk,” he said.
The Victoria Police Department was fully aware the dud explosives were being placed at the B.C. legislature and that RCMP were monitoring the situation, said Const. Mike Russell.
“The nature and extent of our contribution cannot be disclosed due to the fact that this is now before the court. We can reiterate, however, that the public was never at risk during this operation,” Russell said.
RCMP Asst. Commissioner Wayne Rideout said the RCMP used a variety of techniques to “monitor and control” the pair.
“The suspects were committed to acts of violence and discussed a wide variety of targets and techniques,” he said. “In order to ensure public safety, we employed a variety of complex investigative and covert techniques to control any opportunity the suspects had to commit harm.”