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margaret wente

What are we to make of the latest homegrown terror plot – a scheme allegedly concocted by Canadians, against Canadians, to be carried out on Canada Day?

Personally, I'm relieved. From what we know of the suspects so far, this pair of losers would have had a tough time organizing a Sunday picnic, never mind a bomb plot aimed at a holiday crowd of 40,000 people. The police were on to them months ago.

John Nuttall and Amanda Korody, the alleged bombers, lived in a trash-filled basement apartment that reeked of cat urine. They were reportedly on methadone and welfare. Mr. Nuttall, 38, a former drug addict, has a long record of petty and not-so-petty crime, including hitting someone over the head with a rock during a robbery. He once played in a heavy-metal band called Lust Boys, and posted some of his original compositions online. One is called In League With Satan. I tried to listen to it but it hurt my ears.

Ms. Korody, 29, was reportedly raised in Ontario and estranged from her family. After she and Mr. Nuttall converted to Islam, they would listen to radical Islamist tapes in the basement and she began to wear a burka, according to their landlady, who was interviewed by the Vancouver Sun.

What makes these characters unusual is that they had no foreign or Islamic ties. According to the RCMP, they were "self-radicalized." They lived on the margins of society not because they were excluded, but because they were marginal, somewhat troubled personalities. In this case, it's useless to search for root causes. There is nothing society could have done to make them well-adjusted and happy.

Why might they have done it? (If, indeed, they did – please remember that all the charges against them have yet to be tested in court.) Because even nobodies aspire to be somebodies. And a nobody who feels persecuted by society (petty criminals often have a victim complex) can be tempted to vent that hostility in murderous ways. As for Western women who take to the burka, it's a surprisingly common phenomenon. Rejecting your own society and embracing a strict, totalizing ideology can give you a powerful sense of identity, especially if you feel lost and rejected to begin with.

I think it is this quest for identity, for personal significance, and also for adventure, that draws young Western men toward terrorism. Perhaps that's how an undistinguished 22-year-old named named Xristos Katsiroubas wound up as part of a vicious terrorist attack on an Algerian gas plant last January. Mr. Katsiroubas was a Greek-Canadian teenager from the peaceable town of London, Ont., who somehow became unmoored – as many teenagers do – and was eventually drawn toward radical Islam. He was easy prey for recruiters, who promised glory and connected him to a terrorist group in Africa, which turned him into cannon fodder. He and a friend, another young man from London, died in the desert.

He, too, fit no standard terrorist profile.

Fortunately, there's a lot that we can do to terror-proof ourselves without turning into a police state. We can try to track down and intercept recruiters. Yet we also have to worry about people who recruit themselves, including the odd wacko with an Internet connection, a pressure cooker and a grudge. Luckily, these people are rare and, on the whole, not too smart. The police have now built enough trust with Muslim communities that if they show up at the local mosque they may well be reported. Watchful neighbours can help too. A neighbour of the B.C. couple told reporters that she called police a few months ago, after she heard Mr. Nuttall screaming something about jihad into his cellphone.

I am relieved that the Mounties, who have often seemed incapable in recent years of doing anything right, appear to be on top of things. They've nipped another one in the bud, and this one doesn't seem all that serious. We haven't yet suffered an Islamist terrorist attack, and with luck we never will.

But there will always be weirdos in the basement. That's just life.

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