A teenager plotted “a spectacular show” of terrorism for months, saying he did not mind that children would die if he bombed a crowded Christmas tree lighting ceremony, court documents reveal.
Somali-born US citizen Mohamed Osman Mohamud, 19, was arrested on Friday in Portland, Oregon, after using a mobile phone to try to detonate what he thought were explosives in a van, prosecutors claim. But it was a dummy bomb put together by FBI agents and authorities said the public was never in danger.
Mohamud will appear in court on Monday, charged with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. He believed he was receiving help from a larger ring of jihadists as he communicated with undercover agents, a law enforcement source said.
The official said Mohamud was committed to the alleged plot and planned the details alone, including where to park the van in order 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 had gathered on a cold, clear night for the annual Christmas tree lighting event at Pioneer Courthouse Square, a plaza often referred to as “Portland’s living room” because of its popularity.
The ceremony began just 10 minutes before Mohamud’s arrest. Babies sat on shoulders and children cheered at the first appearance of Santa Claus. The tree-lighting on the bricks of the plaza went off without a hitch just as the arrest was taking place.
Mohamud, who grew up in Beaverton, is a former Oregon State University student, and was enrolled in courses from late 2009 until October 6 before withdrawing, said Oregon State University spokesman Todd Simmons.
The law-enforcement source said agents began investigating Mohamud after receiving a tip from someone concerned about him. The FBI monitored Mohamud’s email 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.
US president Barack Obama was aware of the FBI operation before Friday’s arrest, White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said. He said Mr Obama was assured that the FBI was in full control of the operation and the public was not in danger. Authorities said Mohamud sent bomb components to undercover FBI agents who he believed were assembling the explosive device, but the agents supplied the fake bomb that Mohamud tried to detonate twice via his phone.
On November 4, the court documents say, Mohamud made a video in the presence of one of the undercover agents, putting on clothes he described as “Sheikh Osama style” – a white robe, red and white headdress, and camouflage jacket. He read a statement speaking of his dream of bringing “a dark day” on Americans and blaming his family for thwarting him, according to the court documents, saying: “To my parents who held me back from Jihad in the cause of Allah. I say to them … if you – if you make allies with the enemy, then Allah’s power … will ask you about that on the day of judgment, and nothing that you do can hold me back …”