Canada Day terror plot investigation mirrors previous Canadian operations

Matthew Coutts
John Nuttall's best friend says he couldn't have acted alone

The public is not yet privy to the innermost details of Project Souvenir, an investigation into an alleged plot to bomb the B.C. legislature at the height of Canada Day festivities. But what is known suggests a tight operation possibly involving undercover contact with suspects John Nuttall and Amanda Korody, and likely some assistance from the public.

Investigations into terror plots routinely stay cloudy until the case goes to trial, if not longer. But what we do know is that investigators appeared confident there was no threat to the public and arrested the suspects at a pre-chosen rendezvous point about the time the explosion was intended to occur.

“While the RCMP believes the threat was real, at no time was the security of the public at risk,” Assistant Commissioner James Malitzia told reporters this week.

Whatever happened leading up to the alleged bombing attempt, the RCMP and the Integrated National Security Enforcement Teams appeared to have been in the know. And believed they were in control.

In many ways, details that have come to light mirror previous investigations into foiled terror threats on Canadian soil, including one recently targeting a passenger train in Ontario and the notorious Toronto 18 plot in 2006.

[ Related: Canada Day plot suspects' friends mystified by allegations ]

The investigation into the B.C. Canada Day threat began in February, when the RCMP received a tip from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. It is still not clear what tipped off CSIS, but a few theories have surfaced.

The Canadian Press reports that Nuttall and Korody may have led authorities to themselves through suspicious activity online. The pair was active on a paintball forum board and other websites, and appeared to have threatened violence and espoused radical Islamic imagery on more than one occasion.

According to the news agency, a profile linked to Korody once wrote, “I am a Mujahid (warrior) and inshAllah I will die a Shaheed (holy martyr).”

The Vancouver Sun also reports that Nuttall threatened someone who insulted the Prophet Muhammad on YouTube, urging him to meet near his Surrey apartment to fight.

There were also reports that Nuttall and Korody, recent converts to Islam, had been thrown out of a Surrey mosque when they started exhibiting odd religious behaviour. CBC News reports the incident happened about six months ago, around the time that the RCMP surveillance began.

If that was, in fact, the impetus for an investigation, it wouldn’t have been the first time.

[ More Brew: Canada Day terror plot suspects had checkered past ]

Earlier this year, two men were arrested in Montreal and Toronto in what police say was a foiled plot to bomb a passenger train outside of Toronto. Operation Smooth, as the RCMP-led investigation was called, had reportedly been following the suspects for months before the attack was to occur and began when they received tips from the public.

Lawyer Faisal Kutty wrote in the Toronto Star following the arrests that authorities were tipped off by a "prominent Toronto imam" with the help of his law office.

Regardless of what led authorities to suspects Nuttall and Korody, the investigation from that point appears to fall in line with steps taken to thwart Canada's most notorious terror plan – the Toronto 18 plot to detonate bombs in downtown Toronto and storm Ottawa’s House of Commons in 2006.

The New York Times reports that RCMP similarly tracked suspects for months as they prepared the attack. The investigation included wiretaps, covert searches and, notably, an undercover officer who participated in the sale of ammonium nitrate fertilizer intended to be used in explosives. Suspects were arrested when the delivery of the explosive devices was made.

Those leading the investigation into the Canada Day plot have not confirmed having similar undercover contact with Nuttall and Korody, but they professed a complete understanding of the explosives involved.

"We were able to control and ensure that the devices constructed were unable to detonate and cause harm to other individuals," Assistant Commissioner Wayne Rideout has said. “As these devices were constructed, we were in very tight control.”

It will be a long time before we know all the details of how authorities came to stop the alleged Canada Day attack in Victoria, B.C. But based on what we can piece together, it is likely we have seen it all before.