Federal agents arrested an Oregon man intent on exploding a bomb and killing thousands of people at a nighttime Christmas tree lighting in Portland’s central square, authorities said Saturday. The arrest culminated a sting in which the FBI worked extensively with the man and assembled the fake bomb that he twice tried to detonate Friday night.
The capture of Mohamed Osman Mohamud is the latest indication that the government is increasingly turning to undercover operatives to infiltrate extremist cells and fight what authorities call a wave of homegrown terrorism.
Agents arrested Mohamud moments after he tried to detonate a van he thought was packed with explosives in the crowded public square Friday night, the Justice Department said. As he was taken away, Mohamud, 19, kicked agents and screamed “Allahu Akbar!” – Arabic for “God is great,” officials said. The bomb was an elaborate dud, assembled by FBI technicians.
Mohamud, a Somali-born naturalized U.S. citizen and former Oregon State University student, is expected to appear in federal court Monday. He faces up to life in prison if convicted of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction. Neither an attorney for Mohamud or his family could be located Saturday.
Although the FBI’s tactics of using undercover operatives have been controversial among Muslims, officials say they have successfully broken up numerous recent plots, including the attempted bombing of Metro stations in Northern Virginia and a plan to blow up a Dallas skyscraper. And it was a tip from the Muslim community that led the FBI to Mohamud, federal officials said.
Unlike other high-profile cases such as the attempted Times Square bombing in May, federal law enforcement officials said there is no evidence that a foreign terrorist group was behind the averted Portland attack. There were no indications of any U.S. collaborators, and officials emphasized that Mohamud’s device posed no real danger to the public.