Did Mounties use Mr. Big-style sting in B.C. bomb plot?

Based on the cryptic information released by the RCMP about arrests in an alleged terror bombing plot in British Columbia, it appears possible that the Mounties used an undercover, Mr. Big-style sting to foil the plot and arrest two people. We might not know for certain for months, or even years, as the case winds its way through the courts. Investigators are withholding key information at the moment, citing the need to preserve evidence for the purposes of prosecution. But there are signs that the controversial, undercover tactic, or a similar scheme, was employed to crack the case. At the very least, it appears almost certain that undercover operatives were used to thwart the would-be bombers.

In releases today, investigators explained that there was never any danger of any bombs being detonated at the B.C. legislature in Victoria on Canada Day, as the perpetrators planned. Consider these comments from assistant RCMP commissioner Wayne Rideout:

The RCMP deployed significant resources over the past five months. The suspects were committed to acts of violence and discussed a wide variety of targets and techniques. In order to ensure public safety, we employed a variety of complex investigative and covert techniques to control any opportunity the suspects had to commit harm. These devices were completely under our control, they were inert, and at no time represented a threat to public safety.

The assertions that the bombs, pressure-cooker like devices similar to those used in the Boston Marathon bombings, were “inert” and “at no time represented a threat to public safety” and were “under the control” of law enforcement suggests that the Mounties had operatives inside the plot, in a position to render the devices unworkable.

The Mounties revealed that they first heard of a plot five months ago and began an extensive investigation that used “complex investigative and covert techniques.” While this clearly suggests surveillance and wiretapping were employed, it could also mean that investigators used a more intrusive tactic, the insertion of an undercover officer or officers, who would pose as criminals, in a bid to befriend the alleged bombers, leading them to believe they were dealing with a potential accomplice. In the classic Mr. Big Sting, a controversial tactic which has led to some false confessions, an undercover officer poses as the head of a criminal organization and demands a confession from a would-be recruit – the target of the police sting – before he’ll be admitted into the organization. Mr. Big was used in the investigation of the 2005 murders of four RCMP officers in Mayerthorpe, Alberta in 2005. A judge refused to convict a Manitoba man, Clayton Mentuck, who was accused of killing a 14-year-old girl in 1996, based on a Mr. Big-induced confession. The judge said that “the confession, if not false, is certainly too unreliable for acceptance as an admission of guilt.”

If investigators employed a Mr. Big-style sting in the B.C. bomb plot, which would be unusual since they are typically reserved for murder cases, it could lead to a spirited court fight over the admissibility of evidence about the conduct of the accused bombers. But there was clearly plenty at stake here. Police say the plotters were inspired by Al-Qaeda ideology , were self-radicalized and committed to acts of violence at a public place where innocent civilians would be maimed and/or killed. Investigators say the accused pair did not have any international connections.

It’s notable that the bomb plot appears to have been allowed by police to run its course right through to near completion, again a strong indication that an undercover operative or operatives were very close to the alleged perpetrators. Police have not made clear whether the devices that were assembled were actually placed at the legislature in Victoria, although the charges laid suggest the “inert” bombs were, in fact, delivered to the legislature. In the release today, the RCMP said the accused “took steps to build explosive devices and place them at the British Columbia Legislature in Victoria where crowds were expected to gather on Canada Day.” The two accused plotters, John Nuttall and Amanda Korody of Surrey, B.C., face charges under section 431.2(2) of the Criminal Code, which sets out that:

Every one who delivers, places, discharges or detonates an explosive or other lethal device to, into, in or against a place of public use, a government or public facility, a public transportation system or an infrastructure facility, either with intent to cause death or serious bodily injury or with intent to cause extensive destruction of such a place, system or facility that results in or is likely to result in major economic loss, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for life.

» Here is the complete RCMP release on the arrests

» Old news accounts of Nuttal’s previous crimes, showing he is a violent, petty thief and drug addict

Below are photos released by the Mounties of the devices that were allegedly assembled by the accused bomb plotters:

Pressure-cooker style devices intended to function as improvised bombs. The items were seized by the RCMP

Components of bombs seized in B.C. by the RCMP

A pressure cooker filled with rusted nails and designed as a bomb. The device was seized by the RCMP

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