FBI Foils Bomb Plot in... Portland, Oregon?
Huge and scary news tonight from my hometown... A Somali-born immigrant was arrested for trying to set off a van-sized bomb at the crowded Christmas Tree lighting ceremony in downtown Portland's Pioneer Courthouse Square. This event is attended by thousands of Portlanders and their families every year, all to see the joy of the holiday season. Never in a million years did a bomb plot enter their minds.
How did the FBI do it? Here's the story so far...
Back in August 2009, 19-year-old Somali-born man Mohamed Osman Mohamud was living in Corvallis, OR as a naturalized citizen. The FBI complaint states that Mohamud was in email contact with an "unindicted associate" in the troubled northwest province of Pakistan. In December 2009, they say that Mohamud wished to travel to Pakistan to prepare for "violent jihad", as discussed with the associate through coded language via email. In the months that followed, Mohamud attempted to contact a second "unindicted associate" to make travel arrangements, but due to a faulty email, the contact was never made.
In June 2010, the FBI contacted Mohamud and posed as being affiliated with the first associate. They arranged to meet on July 30, 2010, when Mohamud told the undercover agent that he wanted to set off a bomb at the Christmas Tree lighting this year. They discussed "violent jihad" and apparently made other plans.
Mohamud and the FBI operative agreed to meet in Portland a month later. Mohamud allegedly told the FBI operative that he had written articles that were published in Jihad Recollections, an online magazine that advocated holy war.
Mohamud also indicated he intended to become "operational," meaning he wanted to put an explosion together but needed help. The two met again in August 2010 in a Portland hotel.
"During this meeting, Mohamud explained how he had been thinking of committing some form of violent jihad since the age of 15," the affidavit says. "Mohamud then told (the FBI operatives) that he had identified a potential target for a bomb: the Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in Portland's Pioneer Courthouse Square on Nov. 26, 2010."
Mohamud maintained his interest in carrying out the attack and spent months working on logistics.
He allegedly identified a location to place the bomb and mailed bomb components to the FBI operatives, who he believed were assembling the device. He also mailed them passport photos so he could sneak out of the country after the attack, according to the affidavit.
He provided the FBI operatives with a thumbdrive that contained detailed directions to the bomb location and operational instructions for the attack.
On Nov. 4, Mohamud and the FBI operatives traveled to a remote spot in Lincoln County, where they detonated a bomb concealed in a backpack as a trial run for the upcoming attack.
On the drive back to Corvalis, FBI operatives quizzed Mohamud about whether he was capable of looking at the bodies of those who would be killed in his planned Portland attack.
"I want whoever is attending that event to leave, to leave either dead or injured," Mohamud reportedly told the FBI operatives, the affidavit says.
Later that day, Mohamud recorded a video of himself with the FBI operatives in which he read a written statement offering his reasons for the planned Portland bombing.
On Nov. 18, FBI operatives picked up Mohamud to travel to Portland, where they would finalize details of the attack.
Fast forward to tonight's events... I can hardly believe this happened right here in Portland.
The undercover FBI agent and Mohamud drove a van loaded with six 55-gallon drums of 'explosives' decorated with detonation wires and blasting caps (all fake), and parked it at Pioneer Courthouse Square at 5:40P. The tree lighting was expected to take place at 6pm.
Mohamud and the undercover agent got out of the van and into another car driven by a second FBI undercover agent. They drove to Union Station, Portland's major train station where Mohamud was given a cell phone which he believed would set off the bombs in the van at the crowded square.
Mohamud dialed the phone, and was then told that nothing had happened at the Square. The undercover agents suggested he get out of the car to “improve the signal” on the cell phone to set off the bomb. Mohamud stepped from the car to make that second call and was immediately surrounded by FBI and Portland police. Mohamud yelled “Allah Akbar” and attempted to kick at the agents and officers who took him into immediate custody.
Mohamud has been charged with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction.
It makes me shake to think of a plot like this happening right here in Portland, and to have gone so far, even though it sounds as if the FBI were in control the entire time and the public was never in danger, it’s still really scary. All those people at the Square, all those families waiting to see the lights, and no one knew about the drama unfolding in their midst.
"This defendant's chilling determination is a stark reminder that there are people – even here in Oregon – who are determined to kill Americans," U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton said. "We have no reason to believe there is any continuing threat arising from this case."
Omar Jamal, first secretary to the Somali mission to the United Nations, condemned the plot and urged Somalis to cooperate with police and the FBI.
"Talk to them and tell them what you know so we can all be safe," Jamal said.
One thing seems to be certain about this case- it appears that there were many steps involved which made Mohamud's intent clear, from reaching out to terrorists in Pakistan to making the arrangements for an attack here, right up to making the cell phone call he believed would kill thousands of men, women and children in downtown Portland, OR. It sounds like this man knew exactly what he wanted to do.
Again, from the Oregonian:
The FBI operatives cautioned Mohamud several times about the seriousness of his plan, noting that there would be many people, including children, at the event, and that Mohamud could abandon his plans at any time with no shame.
"You know there's going to be a lot of children there?" an FBI operative asked Mohamud. "You know there are gonna be a lot of children there?"
Mohamud allegedly responded he was looking for a "huge mass that will ... be attacked in their own element with their families celebrating the holidays."
Mohamud dismissed concerns about law enforcement, explaining that, " ... It's in Oregon; and Oregon, like, you know, nobody ever thinks about," according to the affidavit.
On behalf of Portlanders and all Oregonians (and many Americans), thank you FBI for catching this one.