A naturalized American citizen from Somalia has been arrested for attempting to detonate a vehicle he believed was laden with explosives at an Oregon Christmas tree lighting ceremony.
Mohamed Osman Mohamud, 19, was arrested on November 26, 2010, after planting and attempting to detonate what he thought were explosives outside the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland, Oregon. Mohamud, who has been charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.
Mohamud, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Somalia, allegedly parked what he thought was an explosives-laden van near the Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland's Pioneer Courthouse Square and adjacent to a light rail station. Mohamud dialed an already determined phone number in an attempt to remotely detonate the explosive device – which was inert and had been provided to him by undercover FBI operatives. He was immediately arrested thereafter.
The affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint details Mohamud's plot and other terror-related activities during the past year. Since August 2009, Mohamud was in contact with an unnamed, unindicted associate located in the northwestern frontier province of Pakistan. In December of that year, Mohamud and the unindicted associate, who was a student in the U.S. in 2007 and 2008, used coded language in e-mails to discuss the possibility of Mohamud traveling to Pakistan "to prepare for violent jihad," according to the affidavit.
In June 2010, an undercover FBI operative contacted Mohamud via e-mail under the guise of being affiliated with his associate who was based in Pakistan. In subsequent meetings, Mohamud told the undercover FBI operative that he had previously written for Jihad Recollections, the self-described "first English Jihad magazine" released by Al-Fursan Media, an apparent collaboration of online terrorist sympathizers. Among those who contributed to Jihad Recollections was Samir Khan, an American blogger who distributed terrorist propaganda material from the U.S. for several years before leaving for Yemen in October 2009 and aligning himself with Al Qaeda.
In the inaugural issue of Jihad Recollections, Mohamud – who, according to the affidavit, wrote under the pseudonym Ibn al-Mubarak – provided detailed information and step-by-step instructions of ways for potential "mujahid[een]," or Muslim warriors, to physically "prepare their own selves for Jihad." An article written by Ibn Al-Mubarak in the second issue of Jihad Recollections discussed how to prepare oneself to be stationed at a post guarding the frontlines. Such preparation, according to Ibn Al-Mubarak, entails exercising, camping in the wilderness with others and taking turns guarding throughout the night, taking an introductory business class to improve coordination and management skills, and visiting with scholars. An article written by Ibn Al-Mubarak in the third issue of Jihad Recollections provides reasons for the perceived success of Al Sahab, Al Qaeda's media wing. Al Sahab, according to Ibn Al-Mubarak, has been successful because its materials, which have been translated into many different languages, have received widespread attention from both Muslim followers and the mainstream media.
Mohamud also told the undercover FBI operative that he wrote and sent an article to Inspire, the English-language publication released by the media wing of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Al Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen that sent explosive-laden packages on U.S.-bound cargo flights in October 2010. Various articles in Inspire have threatened to "bleed the enemy to death" by sending similar explosive devices on both commercial and passenger aircrafts in Western countries and have encouraged terror attacks on U.S. soil. Federal authorities have claimed that Samir Khan is the magazine's principal author, and the graphics, design and overall packaging of Inspire resemble those on Khan's various blogs and in Jihad Recollections.
In addition to admitting his involvement with these online terrorist publications, Mohamud also told the undercover FBI operative that he originally thought about conducting an attack similar to the November 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai that killed more than 170 people. In devising a new plan, Mohamud told the undercover FBI operative that he decided to become "operational" and needed help putting together an explosion. In August 2010, Mohamud stated that he had identified the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland's Pioneer Courthouse Square as the target. Such a locale, Mohamud stated, would be a "huge mass that will… be attacked in their own element with their families celebrating the holidays," according to the indictment. Mohamud later dismissed concerns about law enforcement foiling the plot. "It's in Oregon," Mohamud told the undercover FBI operative, "and Oregon like you know, nobody ever thinks about it."
In September 2010, Mohamud sent bomb components to the undercover federal operative and devised his plans to leave the U.S. after remotely detonating the bomb, according to the affidavit. Mohamud also identified a location to park the explosives-laden vehicle to inflict maximum casualties, as approximately 25,000 people were expected to attend the tree lighting ceremony. The following month, Mohamud provided the undercover federal operative with a thumb drive containing operational instructions and detailed images and maps for the attack, which he had obtained from the Google Maps application. That same day, Mohamud detonated a bomb concealed in a backpack – provided to him by the undercover federal operative – in a remote area of Oregon as a trial run for the upcoming Christmas tree lighting attack. At that time, Mohamud expressed his intention to kill or injure as many people as possible. "Do you remember when 9/11 happened when those people were jumping from skyscrapers…I thought that was awesome," Mohamud said. "I want whoever is attending that event to leave, to leave either dead or injured."
Following the trial run, the undercover agents recorded Mohamud reading a written statement, in which he threatened the U.S. and its allies. "For as long as you threaten our security, your people will not remain safe," Mohamud allegedly said. "Do you think that you could invade a Muslim land, and we would not invade you? But Allah will have soldiers scattered everywhere across the globe." According to the affidavit, Mohamud concluded his statement with a poem, saying, "Explode on these [infidels]. Alleviate our pain. Assassinate their leaders, commanders, and chiefs."
Mohamud was previously prevented from boarding a flight to Alaska in June 2010, according to the affidavit. When questioned by federal agents, he explained that he had secured a fishing job in Alaska and admitted that he had previously intended to travel to Yemen, though he never obtained a ticket or a visa. Mohamud later told the undercover FBI operative that he had planned to travel to Yemen "to join the brothers" after making money in Alaska.