Police have foiled a terrorist plot to explode three bombs filled with rusty nails near thousands of people attending Canada Day celebrations at the B.C. legislature, the RCMP said Tuesday.
Former Victoria resident John Stewart Nuttall, 38, and his partner Amanda Marie Korody, 30, were charged with taking steps to build the bombs and place them on the legislative grounds in an effort to kill or maim people as part of a terrorist attack.
More than 40,000 people crowded into Victoria’s Inner Harbour on Canada Day, many of them attending a concert on the legislature lawn.
The pair, who now live in Surrey, were arrested in Abbotsford about 2 p.m. Monday. Police declined to say precisely when or where the bombs were placed at the legislature.
The goal of the plot was to “create maximum impact and harm to Canadian citizens at the B.C. legislature on a national holiday,” said RCMP Assistant Commissioner Wayne Rideout.
“They took steps to educate themselves and produced explosive devices designed to cause injury and death,” he said. “The suspects were committed to acts of violence and discussed a wide variety of targets and techniques.”
The public, however, was never at risk, because investigators had been monitoring the couple’s actions for months and used covert techniques to make sure the devices were unable to explode, said Rideout.
“These devices were completely under our control, they were inert, and at no time represented a threat to public safety,” he said.
RCMP Assistant Commissioner James Malizia said the alleged terrorists were “inspired by al-Qaida ideology” and were “self-radicalized” to violence, although there is no indication they received any support from any international terrorist organizations.
“Our investigation demonstrated that this was a domestic threat, without international linkages,” he said.
Nuttall’s lawyer, Tom Morino, said his client had converted to Islam and embraced the Muslim faith, but the alleged offences are “absolutely unrelated” to any mosque group or any other established organization. “I am not aware of any mosque with which he is affiliated.”
Nuttall and Korody are charged with conspiring together or with others to place an explosive in a government facility with intent to cause death or serious bodily injury for the benefit of a terrorist group and facilitating a terrorist group.
They are also charged with possessing an explosive substance with intent to endanger life or cause serious damage to property for the benefit of a terrorist group.
Two of the charges carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Photos of the devices showed them to be pressure-cooker style bombs filled with rusty nails.
The RCMP said there’s no connection to the Boston Marathon bombings in which similar devices were used.
The arrests followed a five-month investigation by the RCMP-led Integrated National Security Enforcement Team.
The RCMP had tracked Nuttall and Korody since receiving information from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service in February.
Nuttall used to live in Victoria where he was in a punk rock band. He had a criminal history in Victoria, including several vicious drug-related beatings and a 2003 conditional sentence for robbery after he hit a man with a rock and stole his briefcase.
Nuttall’s punk rock songs include “In League with Satan” and “The End of the World,” according to his profile on a music website.
News of the thwarted attack came as MLAs were returning to work at the legislature Tuesday.
A defiant Premier Christy Clark said the province would not react with fear to the attack.
“The very symbol of our values as British Columbians and Canadians was targeted,” said Clark. “But our Parliament stands strong. We are back at work today, undeterred and undaunted.”
Clark said she was shocked at news of the alleged plot, and thinks it was intended to damage the capital building and hurt as many people as possible. But she rejected increased security or restricted use of the legislature grounds. “We cannot let this event change who we are and how we use this public space,” said the premier.
“This space, this building, belongs to the people of British Columbia and we are not going to let it belong to [terrorists]. We will not be ruled by fear, we will not allow them to take it away from us.
“We will not let them win. We will not let them strike fear into our hearts. These public spaces belong to us the people and we’re going to keep them.”
Speaker Linda Reid, who is the MLA in charge of the legislative grounds and its security, said she’ll continue to review security procedures.
Nuttall and Korody briefly appeared in Surrey provincial court Tuesday.
The two are in a romantic relationship, said Morino, Nuttall’s lawyer. “She and John may even be husband and wife at this stage,” he said.
Morino also represented Nuttall on court charges in the past. Nuttall has previous convictions on weapons charges, as well as assaults, mischief and breaches, though in previous cases he has told court hearings that he’s turning his life around and kicking a drug habit.
Federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said the investigation is an example of “productive intelligence sharing” between Canada’s law enforcement agencies.
“Yesterday's arrests demonstrate terrorism continues to be a real threat to Canada,” he said.
Toews said he was assured by RCMP that at no time were people at risk outside the legislature during the police operation.
NDP Leader Adrian Dix, who was briefed on the arrests Tuesday morning, expressed his gratitude to the RCMP and CSIS for thwarting the terrorist plot.
Dix noted that a cousin in his father’s family died in the Lockerbie disaster in 1988, while his wife’s aunt and uncle were killed in the Air India bombing in 1985.
“In our families, we’ve had some experience with terrorist attacks on innocents, so one can only say how grateful we are that people weren’t injured, that lives weren’t lost here, and that people will be held accountable in a court of law for their actions,” he said.
News of the plot came as a huge surprise to Victoria Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe, an organizer of the “living flag” and other Canada Day activities downtown. Close to 3,000 people donned red and white shirts to form the living flag Monday afternoon.
“It is upsetting to hear because, of course, with any event public safety is extremely important,” Thornton-Joe said. “I heard about it the same time as everyone else, and reacted with quite a bit of shock and the recognition that we had lots of people there.
“I’m sure if there were things that we needed to know earlier we would have known.”
Reporting by Louise Dickson, Rob Shaw, Sarah Petrescu, Lindsay Kines, Mike Devlin and Jeff W. Bell