BULLETIN: FBI Foils ‘Chilling’ Plot To Kill Children, Families En Masse; Mohamed Osman Mohamud, A U.S. Citizen, Tried To Detonate Explosives-Laden Van At Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony In Portland, Ore.; Charged With Attempting To Use Weapon Of Mass Destruction
BULLETIN: (UPDATED 6:41 A.M. ET U.S.A. Nov. 28) The FBI and police officers in Oregon have foiled a plot by a naturalized U.S. citizen to kill children and entire families by detonating a car bomb at a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland yesterday.
Mohamed Osman Mohamud, 19, of Corvallis, Ore., was charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction. He was born in Somalia and faces life in prison if convicted.
Crowd photos taken at the scene just prior to 6 p.m. yesterday, when the tree was scheduled to be lighted, appear to show that people by the hundreds attended the ceremony. The FBI said they were not in danger because the agency had intercepted the plot months ago, had kept Mohamud under surveillance as part of a long-term undercover probe and that the bomb be believed he was detonating was inert.
“This defendant’s chilling determination is a stark reminder that there are people — even here in Oregon — who are determined to kill Americans,” said U.S. Attorney Dwight C. Holton of the District of Oregon.
‘Absolutely Committed To Carrying Out An Attack On A Very Grand Scale’
The day after Thanksgiving in the United States is known in the retail trade as “Black Friday.” Many Americans had a long holiday weekend and, as had become tradition, were crowding into holiday events and retail stores to pluck Black Friday bargains.
“The [Portland] threat was very real,” said said Arthur Balizan, special agent in charge of the FBI in Oregon. “Our investigation shows that Mohamud was absolutely committed to carrying out an attack on a very grand scale.”
Given the chilling news that an American wanted to kill as many fellow Americans as possible by detonating explosives at a crowded holiday event, Balizan stressed that Portland’s public never was in danger.
“I want to reassure the people of this community that, at every turn, we denied him the ability to actually carry out the attack,” Balizan said.
Mohamud sought to contact a party “overseas” more than a year ago, the FBI said.
“[I]n August 2009, Mohamud was in e-mail contact with an unindicted associate (UA1) overseas who is believed to be involved in terrorist activities,” the FBI said. “In December 2009, while UA1 was located in the northwest frontier province of Pakistan, Mohamud and UA1 discussed the possibility of Mohamud traveling to Pakistan to engage in violent jihad. UAI allegedly referred Mohamud to a second unindicted associate (UA2) overseas and provided Mohamud with a name and email address to facilitate the process.”
“In the months that followed, Mohamud allegedly made several unsuccessful attempts to contact UA2,” the FBI continued. “Ultimately, an FBI undercover operative contacted Mohamud via e-mail in June 2010 under the guise of being an associate of UA1. Mohamud and the FBI undercover operative then agreed to meet in Portland in July 2010. At this meeting, Mohamud allegedly told the FBI undercover operative that he had written articles that were published in Jihad Recollections, an online magazine that advocated violent jihad. Mohamud also indicated that he wanted to become’ operational.’ Asked what he meant by ‘operational,’ Mohamud stated that he wanted to put an ‘explosion’ together, but needed help.”
Mohamud had been contemplating jihad for four years, the FBI said. Eventually he identified Portland’s tree-lighting ceremony as his target.
Mohamud Knew Children, Parents Would Be In In The Crowd; Portland Deliberately Targeted Because Of Location
That children and their parents would be attending the Portland ceremony mattered nothing to Mohamud, who moved forward with the plan, the FBI said. Chillingly, Mohamud speculated that his bid to kill Portland residents would be less apt to be detected.
“. . . it’s in Oregon; and Oregon like you know, nobody ever thinks about it,” the FBI quoted Mohamud as telling an undercover operative.
The steadfast plan was to look for a “huge mass that will . . . be attacked in their own element with their families celebrating the holidays,” the FBI said.
As the attack plan moved forward, the FBI said, Mohamud focused on logistics, deciding on a location for the bomb to be detonated and mailing “bomb components to the undercover FBI operatives, who he believed were assembling the device.”
He also plotted a way to flee the United States after the attack, the FBI said.
Mohamud “mailed” passport photos to undercover operatives “as part of a plan to help him sneak out of the country after the attack,” the FBI said. “In addition, Mohamud provided the undercover FBI operatives with a thumb drive that contained detailed directions to the bomb location and operational instructions for the attack.”
‘Test’ Detonation Conducted In Rural Oregon Prior To Urban Tree-Lighting Event
A test detonation occurred in a remote section of Oregon 22 days before the planned Black Friday attack, the FBI said.
“[O]n November 4, 2010, Mohamud and the undercover FBI operatives traveled to a remote location in Lincoln County, Ore., where they detonated a bomb concealed in a backpack as a trial run for the upcoming attack,” the FBI said. “Afterwards, on the drive back to Corvallis, undercover FBI operatives questioned Mohamud as to whether he was capable of looking at the bodies of those who would be killed in the upcoming attack in Portland. According to the affidavit, Mohamud responded, ‘I want whoever is attending that event to leave, to leave either dead or injured.'”
Upon returning to Corvallis that same day, Mohamud recorded a video of himself with the undercover FBI operatives in which he read a written statement that offered a rationale for his bomb attack, the FBI said.