From guitarist to alleged jihadist: friends, landlady recall accused bomber

VANCOUVER – Four years ago, the man RCMP say planned a Canada Day terror attack at the British Columbia legislature was too drunk and violent to be kept on as the guitarist in a heavy metal band.

But some time between March 2009 — after his failed tryout for The Lust Boys in Victoria — and this March, when an indictment says the bombing conspiracy began, John Nuttall allegedly became a home-grown terrorist inspired by al-Qaida to kill fellow Canadians.

“It’s crazy stuff,” said Colin Stuart, a.k.a. Tommy Thrust, who met Nuttall through an online musician forum where the band was looking for a new guitarist.

“It doesn’t really make any sense to me really, because back when he was in the band, when I knew him, he never made any reference to religion at all. He was more into politics, but what he understood of politics.”

They agreed Nuttall would do a one-month tryout for the band, but at the end of March 2009, they parted ways.

“It didn’t work out, because basically Mr. Nuttall was extremely difficult to work with and he would always be at rehearsal completely either drunk or messed up on some kind of substance,” Stuart said Wednesday.

Nuttall, 38, and his partner, Amanda Korody, were arrested on Monday and charged with three counts each in relation to an alleged plot to detonate bombs at the B.C. legislature in Victoria on Canada Day, as thousands celebrated the national holiday.

Police say the two were inspired by “an al-Qaida ideology” but were not linked to any international group.

Nuttall and Korody were described as polite by the landlady of the basement suite they rented in Surrey, B.C., for the past three years.

The two-bedroom apartment sits at the bottom of a house in a residential area of Surrey, about 30 kilometres southeast of Vancouver. Their landlady lived on the house’s main floor.

“When we look at them, they live in poverty, they ask for money sometimes from me,” said the landlady, who did not want her name published.

“They were always looked like they have something, drugs or alcohol, but they never (caused) anything bad.”

On Wednesday, there was little in the way of furnishings or belongings in the apartment, but what was there was strewn about in messy piles. It wasn’t clear whether the mess was the result of the police search. The suite smelled like cat urine and cat foot scattered on the floor.

On one wall, there was a poster with what appeared to be Arabic writing and a piece of paper money, also with Arabic writing, tacked onto it. On the kitchen counter sat several prescription bottles of methadone with Korody’s name on the labels.

Inside the bedroom, another poster read: “Celebrating the life and birth of the Prophet Muhammad,” with the date of a women’s conference printed below. Also in the bedroom, was a television set with small holes smashed into the screen.

Beyond the TV, there were no other electronics, such as a computer, inside the apartment. Municipal pet control officers took custody of the couple’s cat as police searched the suite, said the landlady.

Both Nuttall and Korody were on social assistance, she said, though Korody used to work at a local convenience store. Several weeks ago, Nuttall asked to borrow $20 because he hadn’t received his assistance cheque. She said he paid the money back a week later.

She said Nuttall paid $400 of the month’s rent last week, and said the other $250 was coming soon.

On July 1, she returned from a local Canada Day celebration to find two police cars outside of the suite waiting for a search warrant. Once the warrant arrived they entered, and remained there overnight. They told her not to enter the suite because it could be dangerous, she said.

“The police, they did not tell us anything, they did not tell us why they came,” she said. “We saw it on the TV.”

The woman said she once went to the door and saw Nuttall watching what she believes may have been a religious leader on the television, but he did not talk about religious violence or al-Qaida, the international terrorist group the RCMP say inspired the attack plan.

Police say Nuttall and Korody had no links to any outside groups, but the landlord said she does not know how the poverty-stricken couple could have afforded to finance the alleged plot.

“Where did they get the pressure cookers? It costs money. Explosives? It costs money. How can they go to Victoria? With the pressure cookers in their hands? They don’t have even a bike,” she said.

“I cannot understand.”

A man in traditional Muslim dress would sometimes pick the pair up or drop them off, she said.

In early June, both the landlord and a neighbour said police blocked off the entire neighbourhood and warned residents that a vehicle might contain explosives and chemicals.

“We were not allowed to come in because they found some chemical in a vehicle there,” Ashok Garcha said. “It (the vehicle) was close to that place.”

Garcha, who never met Nuttall and Korody, said the police knocked on his door and told him to leave in the morning. He was not allowed to return until late afternoon.

Korody was quiet, the landlord said, and sometimes wore a burqa, the head-to-toe covering common in countries such as Iran and Afghanistan.

Nuttall told his landlords that his father was Muslim, but religion was not something that appeared to be part of his life four years ago, said Stuart, the former bandmate. Instead, his life was marked by crime, violence and drugs, according to court records and Stuart.

In Victoria, Nuttall lived on social assistance and racked up a list of criminal convictions for assault and drug charges. Stuart remembers him mostly for “always getting in drunken fights in alleys and bars.”

“I’m not surprised that he’s in trouble with the law, but something of this magnitude I just can’t believe he was capable of doing,” Stuart said.

The band posted a disclaimer on its website on Wednesday, distancing band members from their short-lived guitarist and pointing the finger at “poor decision making.”