VANCOUVER – Police officers posing as spiritual guides in an undercover terrorism sting offered “dubious” and “eyebrow-raising” interpretations of Islam to a British Columbia man with extremist Muslim views, says an Islamic expert.
Omid Safi, head of Islamic studies at Duke University in North Carolina, told a B.C. Supreme Court on Thursday that the RCMP should have helped John Nuttall overcome his radical ideas, instead of preventing him from reaching out to mainstream, moderate religious leaders.
Nuttall and his common-law partner Amanda Korody were found guilty last summer of plotting to blow up the B.C. legislature on Canada Day in 2013. Their convictions are on hold while lawyers argue the pair was entrapped by the RCMP.
“I have questions about particular aspects of the ways in which the police seem to have presented themselves as a model of spiritual guides, offering highly dubious interpretations of Islam, putting themselves in a position of authority,” Safi told the court.
“Those are all things that, to a scholar of Islam, certainly seem to be eyebrow raising.”
Defence lawyers have depicted Nuttall and Korody as impoverished former heroine addicts, living on welfare, who spent most of their time playing video games in their basement suite in Surrey, B.C.
Safi described Nuttall’s understanding of Islam as shallow and superficial, informed by rambling and incoherent political grievances.
Transcripts from undercover surveillance recordings reveal Nuttall was searching for spiritual guidance and that he identified the main undercover RCMP officer as a religious authority and his one true Muslim brother, Safi said.
“I think that deradicalization — religious guidance from an authentic, certifiable imam with command over issues of Islamic law — would be the proper course of action,” said Safi, when asked what the appropriate police response would be when dealing with a person who harboured extremist views.
In her cross-examination Crown lawyer Sharon Steele pressed him, asking whether his perspective would differ if this person were in the midst of organizing a violent plot.
“It would only add to the urgency of putting that person in touch with a qualified, scholarly source,” he replied.
Steele presented Safi with instances where Nuttall called into question the authority of mainstream religious leaders and railed against their views of Islam. She questioned whether this behaviour was an precursor to violence.
“I wish I could tell you that that’s a sign of a jihadist. It’s not. It’s a sign of hotheadedness,” Safi said, adding that he’s encountered that exact situation dozens of times over his 24 years as a university professor.
“(It’s) hotheaded, 18-year-old kids who think that they know everything about the faith getting up and telling a professor of Islamic studies, who has a PhD, you’re preaching a soft, watered-down, Westernized Islam for the infidels.
“What you’re seeing here of course is rude, it’s disrespectful. It’s also absolutely a part of the landscape of modern Islam.”
Safi concluded his testimony on Thursday and court has adjourned for the time being.
Both Crown and defence lawyers hope to present final arguments in May; however, that may be delayed as further applications are made concerning evidence.
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