07/03/2013 04:00 EDT | Updated 09/01/2013 05:12 EDT

Canada Day Terror Plot: Legislature Party Continued After RCMP Assurances

VANCOUVER - To people who knew them, the couple accused of planning to bomb a crowded Canada Day celebration at the British Columbia legislature were Johnny and Anna — a pair of "street punks" who struggled with addiction and poverty but seemed to be getting their lives back together.

But at some point, the RCMP allege, John Nuttall and Amanda Korody drifted off that recovery path, converting to Islam and becoming Canada's latest home-grown terror suspects. They are now accused of hatching an al-Qaida-inspired plan to kill their fellow citizens.

They were arrested on Canada Day — the day the terrorism plot was allegedly set to unfold — leaving friends and acquaintances baffled to explain how the quiet, "kind-hearted" couple could become the suspected masterminds of a destructive terrorism plot.

"They're really, really nice people, really caring," said Ashley Volpatti, who lives less than two blocks from Nuttall and Korody in Surrey, B.C., and has known them for about two years.

"Everybody just wants to know why. Knowing them, I just don't think they could have done this on their own."

Nuttall and Korody arrived in Vancouver more than three years ago to get away from the Victoria drug scene, said Volpatti. He had racked up a list of criminal convictions in Victoria for assaults and drug charges.

Neither worked, relying on social assistance and occasionally borrowing money to pay their rent and make ends meet, their landlady said.

Nuttall first moved to Vancouver Island in his teens to live with his grandmother after bouncing back and forth between his parents' home and foster homes, said one of Nuttall's former band mates, Stefano Pasta, who played with him in the band The Lust Boys.

"When I met him, he was living with his grandmother. He had just recently moved from the Okanagan, I guess far away from his parents," Pasta said. "I'm not sure of the situation there. I think his parents basically said, 'Go live with your grandmother.' They couldn't handle him or whatever. He was in and out of trouble with the law quite a bit."

As a teen, around 18 or 19 years old, Nuttall dabbled in recreational drugs like magic mushrooms and pot. By the time Pasta ran into him again on the street in Victoria five years ago, it appeared his drug use had escalated and Nuttall was not looking well.

Pasta remembers a young man with fierce loyalty, who was "a simple character ... not the sharpest tool in the shed."

"He definitely kept his friends very close, because he didn't have a lot of friends and I guess any social circle that would actually accept him, he was very protective of," he said.

"He was a bit of a social outcast."

Growing up in Sooke, they were long-haired rocker boys in a small fishing and logging town.

"We got in a lot of scuffs every week," Pasta said with a laugh.

His time with The Lust Boys didn't last long. Another former band mate, Colin Stuart, said Nuttall wasn't welcomed into the band after a one-month trial period because he was "extremely difficult to work with and he would always be at rehearsal completely either drunk or messed up on some kind of substance."

Much of Korody's past remains a mystery. She was originally from Ontario and went to high school in St. Catharines, south of Toronto, a former classmate confirmed.

Nuttall's lawyer, Tom Morino, said the last time he heard from Nuttall before this week was about five years ago, and Korody was with him then.

"Amanda was clearly devoted to the relationship," said Morino.

Korody was described as a quiet and shy young woman. Her landlord said she had seen Korody wearing a burqa, the head-to-toe covering common in countries such as Iran and Afghanistan.

Volpatti, the friend in Surrey, said she first met the couple about two years ago when Korody was working at a nearby convenience store.

Volpatti had seen them around before — "they were just street kids, street punks," she said — and eventually she and her boyfriend eventually struck up a friendship with them. Volpatti's boyfriend regularly played paintball with Nuttall.

Volpatti always knew Nuttall and Korody had converted to Islam, which they talked about openly, but she said there was no indication they could be turning radical.

"They talked about their religion, but no terrorist plot, there was nothing like that," she said.

"There was nothing leading up to this, no warning signs."

Something changed six months ago, said Volpatti, when Nuttall and Korody abruptly cut off contact.

"They wouldn't answer their phone, they were never home," she said.

Nuttall and Korody lived in a two-bedroom apartment that sits at the bottom of a house in a residential area of Surrey, about 30 kilometres southeast of Vancouver.

Investigators searched the house on Monday and Tuesday, but the police were also in the area about a month earlier.

In June, both the landlord and a neighbour said police blocked off the entire neighbourhood and warned residents that a vehicle might contain explosives and chemicals.

"We were not allowed to come in because they found some chemical in a vehicle there," said Ashok Garcha, who lives nearby. "It (the vehicle) was close to that place."

The landlord said she never heard anything else about the incident.

On Wednesday, there was little in the way of furnishings or belongings in the apartment, but what was there was strewn about in messy piles. It wasn't clear whether the mess was the result of the police search. The suite smelled of cat urine and there was cat food scattered across the floor.

On one wall, there was a poster with what appeared to be Arabic writing and a piece of paper money, also with Arabic writing, tacked onto it. On the kitchen counter sat several prescription bottles of methadone with Korody's name on the labels.

Inside the bedroom, another poster read: "Celebrating the life and birth of the Prophet Muhammad," with the date of a women's conference printed below. Also in the bedroom was a television set with small holes smashed into the screen.

Beyond the TV, there were no other electronics, such as a computer, inside the apartment. Municipal pet control officers took custody of the couple's cat as police searched the suite, said the landlady.

Both Nuttall and Korody were on social assistance, the landlord said, and Nuttall had asked to borrow money in the past, which he promptly paid back.

The woman said she once went to the door and saw Nuttall watching what she believes may have been a religious leader on the television, but he did not talk about religious violence or al-Qaida, the international terrorist group the RCMP say inspired the attack plan.

Police say Nuttall and Korody had no links to any outside groups, but the landlord said she does not know how the poverty-stricken couple could have afforded to finance the alleged plot.

"Where did they get the pressure cookers? It costs money. Explosives? It costs money. How can they go to Victoria? With the pressure cookers in their hands? They don't have even a bike," she said.

"I cannot understand."

Nuttall and Korody remain in custody and are scheduled for a bail hearing on July 9. They are each charged with 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.

Morino, the lawyer, said he will represent one of them, but he hasn't sorted out whether that will be Nuttall or Korody.

When asked whether the couple has any response to the allegations against them, he simply replied: "It's too early for that."

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