VANCOUVER - RCMP say they have foiled a domestic terror attack hatched by two Canadian citizens, driven by an "al-Qaida ideology" to blow up the British Columbia legislature during Canada Day celebrations.
The force was informed of the alleged plot in February by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, and a five-month investigation culminated with the arrests of two people in Abbotsford, B.C., on Monday, RCMP announced on Tuesday.
"This self-radicalized behaviour was intended to cause maximum impact and harm to Canadian citizens at the B.C. legislature on a national holiday," Assistant Commissioner Wayne Rideout said at a news conference in Surrey, B.C.
"They took steps to educate themselves and produce explosive devices designed to cause injury and death.
"The suspects were committed to acts of violence and discussed a wide variety of targets and techniques."
John Stuart Nuttall, 38, and Amanda Marie Korody, born in 1983, appeared in court Tuesday morning in Surrey, and were charged with three counts each: knowingly facilitating a terrorist activity, making or possessing an explosive device, and conspiracy to place an explosive device with the intent to cause death or injury.
RCMP released photos of what they said were the home-made bombs contained in pressure cookers, that police say are similar to a pair of bombs that killed three people and injured more than 260 during the Boston Marathon two months ago. The RCMP categorically ruled out any links to the Boston bombings.
"Our investigation revealed that these individuals were inspired by al-Qaida ideology but there is no evidence to indicate that these individuals had the support or were acting at the direction of a terrorist group, per se," said Assistant Commissioner James Malizia.
The RCMP revealed little about the suspects and their background or what may have motivated the alleged conspiracy, other than repeatedly saying the plot was linked to an "al-Qaida ideology."
When asked whether the alleged plot had a religious motive or was instead driven by something else, Malizia was vague.
"In this case here, the ideology had to do with a criminal act, wanting to pursue criminal acts on behalf of an organization that they believed in, and that organization and the ideology behind that organization as you know it is the al-Qaida ideology," he said.
However, the couple's Surrey landlord questioned where they might have acquired the money for the alleged plot. She said while they paid their rent on time, the couple lived in poverty and on social assistance, didn't have a car or bike and wore "torn clothes," noting that sometimes Korody dressed in what she believed was a burka.
The landlady said the couple even had to borrow money from her, on one occasion as little as $20.
"It is general knowledge, if you don't have anything, you know, how can you buy all these things and bring them it to Victoria and come back, you know," she asked.
The landlady even called Nuttall a polite person who was never harsh with anybody in her family.
Tom Morino, a lawyer who has represented Nuttall in the past, said he received a call from RCMP and spoke to him for about a half an hour from the lock-up on Monday evening. He also spoke to Korody for about 15 minutes.
Morino said he had not received any information from police about the case, but he said he will be involved, though he said he cannot represent both the accused.
Morino said he represented Nuttall previously. In 2002, Nuttall pleaded guilty to a robbery charge in Victoria and was sentenced to an 18-month conditional sentence.
A March 2003 story about the case in the Victoria Times-Colonist said drug addiction fuelled a criminal record that already included previous convictions for robbery, kidnapping and aggravated assault.
Court records for both John Stuart Nuttall and John Stewart Nuttall — an alternate spelling also used on the indictment filed Tuesday — also list convictions for dangerous possession of a weapon, mischief and multiple convictions for assault.
Morino said in 2002 that Nuttall was under the influence of cocaine and didn't remember much of what happened. He told the court then that Nuttall had entered a methadone treatment program and appeared to have turned his life around and was doing "remarkably well."
On Tuesday, Morino urged the public — and police — not to jump to conclusions about the two accused.
"We have to be careful about the hyperbole and use of these kind of descriptions of al-Qaida and such," he said, suggesting RCMP may have "self-serving reasons" for using such language about the alleged crime.
The RCMP said the force has been following the suspects' activities for months and said investigators ensured the alleged bombs were harmless. They offered few details of the five-month Project Souvenir, which involved the national Integrated National Security Enforcement Team, but did say that the investigation involved covert activities.
At no time during the investigation was public security at risk, Malizia said. The devices shown in the photographs were inert, and posed no public threat, police said.
Several leading members of B.C.'s Muslim community were shocked at the alleged home-grown plot.
"These names don't ring a bell at all. They're not even Muslim names," said Adam Buksh, president of Surrey's Jamia Mosque, in the city where police say both Nuttall and Korody were living.
Buksh said members of his mosque and the B.C. Muslim Association do not condone radicalism.
"In my mosque, if I see any kind of things like that happening ... I will stop them in their tracks and report them to the authorities," he said. "We are law-abiding."
David Ali, spokesman for the B.C. Muslim Association, was doubtful the two suspects were part of any mosque.
"I don't think we expect anything of that sort in B.C., and people are very vigilant," he said.
After the Boston Marathon bombings, Buksh said members of the RCMP expressed some concern about a backlash against Muslims but no such thing materialized, Buksh said. Both men hoped the same will hold true for the alleged domestic plot.
B.C. Premier Christy Clark said she was profoundly shocked by news of the arrests.
"But let me say this to those who resort to terror: You will not succeed," Clark told reporters at the legislature in Victoria.
"You will not succeed in damaging our democratic institutions. Just as importantly, you will not succeed in tearing down the values that make this country strong."
Federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews applauded the work of the law enforcement agencies involved in the investigation.
"Yesterday's arrests demonstrate that terrorism continues to be a real threat to Canada," Toews said in a statement.
"The RCMP has assured me that at no time during the course of this investigation was there an imminent risk to the safety of Canadians.