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Terrorism & Security

Canadians ask what 'inspired by Al Qaeda ideology' means

The Mounties say they foiled a pressure cooker bomb plot that was 'inspired by Al Qaeda ideology.' Others find the tie to be tenuous at best.

By Staff writer / July 3, 2013

An evidence photo showing a set of pressure cookers is displayed as RCMP Asst. Commissioner James Malizia speaks during a news conference in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, July 2, 2013. Police have arrested a Canadian man and a woman and charged them as terrorist suspects for attempting to leave a suspicious package at British Columbia's provincial legislature on Canada Day.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press/AP

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Europe Editor

Arthur Bright is the Europe Editor at The Christian Science Monitor.  He has worked for the Monitor in various capacities since 2004, including as the Online News Editor and a regular contributor to the Monitor's Terrorism & Security blog.  He is also a licensed Massachusetts attorney.

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Canadian police yesterday announced they had foiled a Boston-marathon-like bomb attack on the British Columbian legislature earlier this week by a Canadian couple “inspired by Al Qaeda ideology.” But experts say that the connection to Al Qaeda is dubious, and that the pair likely have nothing to do with that or any other terrorist group.

In a press conference on Tuesday, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police described in brief the alleged plot by John Stewart Nuttall and Amanda Marie Korody of Surrey, B.C., near Vancouver. The pair allegedly planned to set off pressure cooker bombs at Canada Day celebrations on July 1 at the legislature in Victoria, where thousands had gathered to celebrate the country's founding. The RCMP said the pair are charged with "knowingly facilitating a terrorist activity, conspiracy to commit an indictable offence and making or having in their possession an explosive substance," according to The Globe and Mail.

The RCMP revealed few details about what may have motivated the alleged plot, only saying they believe the two accused were “inspired by al-Qaeda ideology” but were “self-radicalized” without support from abroad. What is known is that the police have been monitoring Mr. Nuttall and Ms. Korody for some time (the investigation was launched after a tip from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the country’s spy agency) and that law-enforcement officials say they intervened at some earlier point to ensure the bombs could not have exploded and hurt people.

Police allege the accused took steps to build the explosive devices and place them at the legislature in Victoria, where thousands gather each Canada Day to celebrate the country’s birthday. Evidence displayed by the Mounties showed pressure-cookers filled with rusted nails and a collection of metal nuts and washers.

RCMP Assistant Commissioner James Malizia added that there was no evidence of any connection with militant groups, reports the BBC. "Our investigation demonstrated that this was a domestic threat, without international linkages," he said.

CTV News writes that Canada has seen several terrorism-related plots in recent years, most recently in April, when two immigrants were arrested for plotting to blow up a Toronto-New York rail line, reportedly with assistance from Sunni militants based in Iran.

But the alleged conspirators in those plots appear to have little in common with Mr. Nuttall and Ms. Korody, whom The Vancouver Sun reports were recovering drug addicts and recent converts to Islam. According to their landlady, Nuttall was polite and somewhat timid, and converted to Islam about two years ago.

The Sun notes that Nuttall has numerous criminal convictions dating back to the 1990s, including robbery, kidnapping, and assault, largely connected to drugs.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation notes that although the RCMP said the pair were "inspired by Al Qaeda" and "took steps to educate themselves," experts are doubtful that Nuttall and Korody had a real connection to the terrorist group or any other radical Islamic organization.

[Former Canadian Security Intelligence Service agent Michel Juneau-Katsuya said] "'Inspired from al-Qaeda' I think is misleading. I don't think we will discover that they had anything to do at all with al-Qaeda, because the indicators are not there."

"Al-Qaeda has never used women. Al-Qaeda converted people who will embrace the cause, who will usually convert and change their names, and these people have Canadian names."

"I think we are witnessing much more of what we have been observing since 9/11, which is the rise of extremists, various extremist groups, which has nothing to do with al-Qaeda, but are using terrorists' means to sort of promote their ideology and promote their message."

The Surrey Leader reports similar concerns from Joshua Labove, a terrorism expert at Simon Fraser University in B.C., who called the RCMP's reference to being inspired by Al Qaeda a "strange turn of phrase."

"Their extremist view could just be the harm of others for no apparent reason," he said.

Musa Ismail, the president of the B.C. Muslim Association, told the Leader that the pair were not part of the local 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.

"These are just individuals who copied whatever happened in Boston," he said.

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