VANCOUVER – Just what triggered a five-month investigation involving the country’s national terrorism unit into two recent Muslim converts now accused of a Canada Day terror plot in British Columbia?
And what role did police operatives play as the bombing plan unfolded that gave RCMP so much confidence the public was never in danger?
As controversy mounts in the United States about the tactics employed in the American war on terror, those are some of the questions being asked after RCMP arrested John Nuttall and Amanda Korody this week for allegedly planning a bomb attack at the B.C. legislature during July 1 celebrations.
“For me, that’s one of the most interesting questions that’s going to come out of this: How were they first alerted to these two and then what role did (police) play in encouraging or providing material?” Scott Watson, a University of Victoria expert in international security issues, said Thursday.
Micheal Vonn, of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said there are similarities between this investigation and some American counter-terrorism investigations.
“The real signal is the absolute confidence of the police that the devices would not work. This is certainly a suggestion that either they had control of the devices – perhaps they provided them, perhaps they knew the specifications of them were faulty,” she said.
“Whatever that confidence is based on … these are signals that the investigation may have had this component of facilitation and those are inherently controversial in terms of police tactics.”
RCMP said a tip from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service prompted the investigation. RCMP Assistant Commissioner Wayne Rideout said the Integrated National Security Enforcement Team used “a variety of complex investigative and covert techniques.”
In the United States, information leaks from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden – now on the run – revealed the massive scale of intelligence agencies’ access to phone and Internet records of millions of Americans to aid in the fight against terrorism.
One neighbour of Nuttall’s told reporters that she called police to report him after overhearing him in the street talking about blowing things up.
But Nuttall and Korody were also active in several online communities, and may have triggered an investigation themselves.
Last year, they became regular posters on a paintball forum called Outlaw Paintball. Nuttall posted under the username Mujahid, another user who played paintball with the couple confirmed. The user asked that his name not be published.
Mujahid also listed the same phone number as the couple used on other sites, including in comments on YouTube. In particular, the number was associated to a comment on the controversial “Innocence of Muslims” film that sparked protests last year.
Using the name “ana nimity,” and the same profile picture of a cat holding a gun that Korody used on the paintball forum, the user became embroiled in a dispute with another user about nine months ago over a perceived insult to the prophet Muhammad.
“I am a Mujahid and inshAllah I will die a Shaheed,” ana nimity wrote.
Mujahid is a Muslim warrior engaged in a jihad, while a Shaheed is an Arabic term that is sometimes translated to mean holy martyr.
Police were somewhat cryptic in explaining the motive for the alleged plot, saying the pair were inspired by an “al-Qaida ideology.”
But the portrait emerging of the couple is of troubled individuals who dabbled in various anti-social ideologies before identifying themselves as Muslim, Watson said.
“I’m hesitant in a way to make their conversion to Islam a major element of the story,” he said.
“Are these people terrorists or are they traditional-type criminals who were just trying to engage in violence because they’ve done that in the past? I just don’t see the political connection in this case,” he said.
There have also been questions in the United States about the role undercover FBI agents have played in some of the plots they disrupted, including providing inert bombing materials and going so far in at least once case as driving a bomb suspect to the attack site.
But Joshua Labove, a terrorism expert at Simon Fraser University, said neither the RCMP nor CSIS have the resources to monitor general activity online.
“These two suspects made it onto the federal radar screen before likely they were having their Internet searches investigated or scrutinized,” Labove said.
© 2013 The Canadian Press