A Somali-born teenager was arrested in an undercover operation on charges that he tried to detonate a van that he thought was filled with explosives at a Portland, Oregon, Christmas tree-lighting ceremony.
Mohamed Osman Mohamud, 19, obtained what he believed to be the bomb from undercover FBI employees, according to court papers filed with his arrest yesterday. The public was never in danger, a Justice Department statement said.
“I want whoever is attending that event to leave, to leave either dead or injured,” Mohamud allegedly told undercover FBI agents, according to an affidavit filed in support of the arrest. At another point, he allegedly said, “It’s gonna be a fireworks show” and “a spectacular show.”
Mohamud, a naturalized U.S. citizen and resident of Corvallis, Oregon, told undercover FBI agents that he had been thinking of committing violent jihad since he was 15 years old, and that he had written for an online publication supporting such actions, according to the affidavit.
Counterterrorism officials, citing a series of cases in recent years, say they are increasingly concerned about American citizens planning terror attacks in the U.S. because those plots are difficult to detect and prevent. Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Pakistan, was convicted of a May 1 attempt to detonate a car bomb in New York’s Times Square.
Mohamud is charged with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. He is scheduled to make his first court appearance in federal court in Portland on Nov. 29.
In August 2009, Mohamud was in contact by e-mail with an associate outside the U.S. who authorities suspect of being involved in terrorism, according to the Justice Department. They allegedly discussed the possibility of his traveling to Pakistan to “engage in violent jihad,” the Justice Department statement said.
Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation in June contacted Mohamud under the guise of being affiliated with the associate, according to the arrest affidavit. He told them he wanted to stage an explosion and needed help, according to the Justice Department.
He allegedly told an undercover agent that he wanted to attack a “huge mass” of people “in their own element with their families celebrating the holidays.” He said he wanted to carry out the attack in Oregon because “nobody ever thinks about it.”
Earlier this month, Mohamud and the undercover FBI agents went to a remote location in Lincoln County, Oregon and detonated a bomb concealed in a backpack as a trial run, according to the affidavit.
Mohamud mailed bomb components to undercover FBI agents, who he thought were assembling the device, according to the affidavit.
Mohamud told the FBI agents that he thought it was “awesome” when people had to jump from the World Trade Center in the Sept. 11 attacks, and said he wanted to see body parts and blood after setting off his bomb, according to the affidavit.
Before the planned bombing at Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square, Mohamud put on a white robe and a white and red headdress, along with a camouflage jacket and read a written statement in front of a video camera, the affidavit said. “For as long as you threaten our security, your people will not remain safe,” he said, according to the affidavit.
Yesterday, Mohamud and an undercover agent allegedly drove a white van near the courthouse. The fake bomb, constructed by FBI technicians, included six 55-gallon drums containing inert materials and diesel fuel, according to the affidavit.
Mohamud tried to detonate the bomb using a cell phone, according to the affidavit. He was taken into custody soon after, at about 5:40 p.m. Portland time, about 10 minutes after the tree lighting was scheduled to begin. As he was being transported, he allegedly yelled “Allahu Akhbar,” or “God is great” in Arabic, and began kicking the FBI agents.
Mohamud took classes at Oregon State University in Corvallis starting in late 2009 and he withdrew last month, said Todd Simmons, a university spokesman.
Mohamud faces life in prison if convicted.
“The threat was very real,” said Arthur Balizan, special agent in charge of the FBI in Oregon, in the Justice Department statement. “Mohamud was absolutely committed to carrying out an attack on a very grand scale.”