Suspect wanted ‘spectacular show’
A Somali-born teenager plotted “a spectacular show” of terrorism for months, saying he didn’t mind that children would die if he bombed a crowded Christmas tree-lighting ceremony, according to a law-enforcement official and court documents.
He never got the chance. Mohamed Osman Mohamud, 19, was arrested Friday in downtown Portland after using a cell phone to try to detonate what he thought were explosives in a van, prosecutors said. It turned out to be a dummy bomb put together by FBI agents, and authorities said the public was never in danger.
The case is the latest in a string of alleged terrorist planning by U.S. citizens or residents, including a Times Square plot in which a Pakistan-born man pleaded guilty earlier this year to trying to set off a car bomb at a busy street corner.
In the Portland plot, Mohamud believed he was receiving help from a larger ring of jihadists as he communicated with undercover agents, but a law-enforcement official who wasn’t authorized to discuss the case publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity told The Associated Press that no foreign terrorist organization was directing him.
The official said Mohamud planned the details, including where to park the van to hurt the most people.
“I want whoever is attending that event to leave, to leave dead or injured,” Mohamud said, according to the affidavit.
Thousands of people gathered Friday on a cold, clear night for the annual event at Pioneer Courthouse Square, a plaza known as “Portland’s living room.”
Just 10 minutes before Mohamud’s 5:40 p.m. arrest, babies were sitting on shoulders, and children cheered at the first appearance of Santa Claus onstage. The tree-lighting went off without a hitch.
Mohamud graduated from high school in Beaverton. He was enrolled at Oregon State University over the past year but withdrew Oct. 6, the school said.
The law-enforcement official who spoke to the AP said agents began investigating Mohamud after receiving a tip from someone concerned about him. The official declined to provide more detail about the relationship between the two.
The FBI monitored Mohamud’s e-mail and found he was in contact with people overseas, asking how he could travel to Pakistan and join the fight for jihad, according to an FBI affidavit.
The law-enforcement official said Mohamud e-mailed a friend living in Pakistan who had been a student in Oregon in 2007-08 and had been in Yemen as well.
The e-mail exchanges led the FBI to believe that Mohamud’s friend in Pakistan “had joined others involved in terrorist activities” and was inviting Mohamud to join him, according to the affidavit.
For reasons unexplained, Mohamud tried to board a flight to Kodiak, Alaska, from Portland on June 14. He wasn’t allowed to board and was interviewed by the FBI, the affidavit states.
Mohamud told the FBI he wanted to earn money fishing and then travel to join “the brothers.” He said he had previously hoped to travel to Yemen but had never obtained a ticket or a visa.
On June 23, an agent e-mailed Mohamud, pretending to be affiliated with the “unindicted associate.”