The moment news broke that two young Canadians had tried to explode pressure cooker bombs next to the British Columbia legislature during a large Canada Day celebration, investigators were quick to look for links between the almost-incident and international ties, particularly Al-Qaeda.
Three days ago, two suspects were arrested, accused of conspiring to make use of the explosive devices in Victoria, British Columbia, during Monday's Canada Day celebrations. According to RCMP Assistant Commissioner Wayne Rideout, the apparent target was the B.C. legislature. The suspects turned out to be two young Canadian adult citizens, John Nuttall and Amanda Korody. The charges they received were: conspiring to place an explosive in or against a place of public use, with intent to cause death or serious bodily injury; facilitating terrorist activity; and making or having in their possession an explosive substance with intent to endanger life.
Commissioner Rideout had declared "This self-radicalized behavior was intended to create maximum impact and harm to Canadian citizens at the B.C. legislature on a national holiday." Following this, it was made clear that there was no actual international link to the plot. Still, the suspects were imminently labeled by police as having been "inspired by al-Qaeda ideology," with little explanation as to why or how this connection was made, leading to panicked speculations about their motivation.
This association jars with the developing image of the two adults that illustrates a pair of unfortunate individuals who had experimented with a variety of subcultures, trying to find their place in society, before finally finding a sense of belonging in religion and converting to Islam. John Nuttall had apparently found help through joining the mosque; his connections there helped land him a job, and acquaintances of the couple held fiercely that the motivation was unclear and their actions surprising. Scott Watson, an expert in international security from the University of Victoria, has stated that he would be "hesitant in a way to make their conversion to Islam a major element of the story." Ultimately, it seems, the statement that the couple were inspired by Al-Qaeda seems to have unfairly thrown the story into a completely different context.
Unless the phrase 'inspired by al-Qaeda ideology' was meant to allude to the couple's use of familiar technology the phrase was entirely misleading. There are plenty of factors that separate the incident from the police's attribution, including the couple's relatively loose personal and physical connection to their religious institution. As Canadian Security Intelligence Service agent Michel Juneau-Katya put forth, "Al-Qaeda has never used women. Al-Qaeda converted people who will embrace the cause, who will usually convert and change their names … the indicators are not there." Thereby, the pair didn't seem to be extensively inspired by Al-Qaeda tactics and must have acted for either their own cause, or perhaps acted for no known cause at all besides public attention or a sense of accomplishment.
Yes, this (almost) happened at a celebration of a national holiday, and yes, it surrounded by other home-grown terror plots with real threats. Still, the automatic (and publicly stated) attribution of Al-Qaeda methodology by the RCMP to this very base plan which the police also hold never really had the potential to endanger the public is causing excessive panic and prevents an objective assessment of what the core problem that led to this incident really is. Commissioner James Malizia had called the threat "domestic … without international connections." And while investigating for international connections immediately is necessary and understandable, even associating the threat with Al-Qaeda ideology before there is no clear verification of it could lead to a sad deflection from the real, sociological issue at hand here.