Similarities between Canada Day and Boston bombings explosives don’t signal copycat case: experts

The explosive devices seized by the RCMP in relation to a terrorist plot foiled on the grounds of the Legislature building in Victoria, B.C. as the result of Project Souvenir. Police handout

TORONTO – Two Canadian born citizens are in custody in connection with terrorism-related activity involving explosive devices that was planned at the B.C. Legislature in Victoria on Canada Day, not long after similar explosives were used in the Boston Marathon bombings.

But despite the similar devices, two former Canadian intelligence officers believe the Canadians arrested Monday were planning their attack prior to the Boston bombings.

On July 1, the RCMP arrested and charged Amanda Marie Korody, 28, and John Stewart Nuttall, 38, on charges that include conspiracy to commit an indictable offence, knowingly facilitating a terrorist activity and making and having in possession an explosive substance.

Photos of the explosive devices were shown at Tuesday morning’s press conference:

Similarities between Canada Day and Boston bombings explosives don’t signal copycat case: experts - image

Mubin Shaikh was an undercover counter-terrorism operative for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) in the case that led to the 2006 arrests of the Toronto 18. He says pressure cookers are an “easy way to make a big bomb.”

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“You’ll have a chemical reaction and because it’s contained in that pressure cooker, obviously the pressure builds up, builds up, builds up and then that steel container just shreds with that explosion,” said Shaikh.

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He believes the goal of using such devices was primarily to hurt people.

“I don’t think they would have thought they could take out the legislature or anything like that…[the intention] was to inflict mass casualties.”

Looking at photos of the pressure cookers, Shaikh estimates the devices could have caused deaths at a range no less than 25 feet.

A similar type of explosive device was used by suspects in the Boston marathon bombings earlier this year, which consisted of explosives put in 6.06-litre pressure cookers: one with shards of metal and ball bearings, the other with nails.

Former Canadian intelligence officer Allan MacDougall said the similar devices might raise suspicion that the Canada Day plans were a copycat of Boston, but based on his experience, this couple would have been radicalized prior to the March marathon bombing itself for CSIS to be investigating.

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“I think the pressure cookers would make you think [that this was a copycat case], but what came out in the Boston bombing is this stuff was openly available on the Internet,” said MacDougall.

Shaikh believes the Canadians were likely to have been planning an attack long before Boston, but may have seen the use of pressure cookers as “psychological encouragement.”

“For the Boston bombers to have used the pressure cookers, that would have been taken by this couple as a psychological validation, that ‘Well look—it works.’ And what is it about it that works? The Boston bombers showed a very public event…you have the intended result, which is attention to your cause,” said Shaikh.

The RCMP says the Canadian duo arrested Tuesday was “inspired” by al-Qaeda, but was “self-radicalized.”

Shaikh says the term “inspired by al-Qaeda” is a catch-all phrase to explain allegiance to the al-Qaeda narrative, which is one that claims “the West is at war with Islam.” He believes “self-radicalized” refers to the fact that the suspects have likely gone online and subscribed to what he called an absolutist ideology, without prodding or recruiting from an outside source.

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“You’ll notice the RCMP went out of their way not to use the word Islam, because there are factual mistakes that people make,” said Shaikh. “Islam does not does not legitimize or validate these kinds of attacks…however these people are using Islamic sources. So when people say it has nothing to do with Islam, that’s factually incorrect.”

Pressure-cooker explosives have been recommended for lone-wolf operatives by al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen. They have also been used in Afghanistan, India, Nepal and Pakistan, according to a July 2010 intelligence report by the FBI and the Homeland Security Department. One of the three devices used in the May 2010 Times Square attempted bombing was a pressure cooker, the report said.

“Placed carefully, such devices provide little or no indication of an impending attack,” the report said.

With files from Yuliya Talmazan and The Associated Press

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