Oregon Resident Convicted in Plot to Bomb Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony in Portland
After a 14-day trial, Mohamed Osman Mohamud, 21, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Somalia and resident of Corvallis, Ore., was convicted today by a federal jury in the District of Oregon of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction (explosives) in connection with a plot to detonate a vehicle bomb at an annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland.
At sentencing, Mohamud faces a maximum statutory sentence of life in prison. Mohamud was arrested on Nov. 26, 2010, after he attempted to detonate what he believed to be an explosives-laden van that was parked near the tree lighting ceremony in Portland. The arrest was the culmination of a long-term undercover operation, during which Mohamud was monitored closely for months as his bomb plot developed. The device was in fact inert; and the public was never in danger from the device.
“When an individual concocts a plan to commit mass violence – and is determined to follow through – law enforcement has an obligation to take action to protect the public. Today’s verdict shows that they will be held to account,” said Lisa Monaco, Assistant Attorney General for National Security. “I applaud all those who worked so diligently to thwart this plot and ensure no one was harmed.”
“This trial provided a rare glimpse into the techniques Al Qaeda employs to radicalize home-grown extremists. With the verdict today, the jury has held this defendant accountable,” said Amanda Marshall, U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon. “I thank the dedicated professionals in the law enforcement and intelligence communities who were responsible for this successful outcome. I look forward to our continued work with Muslim Communities in Oregon who are committed to ensuring that all young people are safe from extremists who seek to radicalize others to engage in violence.”
“The verdict returned in the Mohamed Mohamud case highlights the difficult, but important, work that FBI employees do every day. Whether an employee is an undercover agent or analyst or technician – each has a role to play in keeping our community safe while at the same time respecting the freedoms that make this country strong. Indeed, in this country everyone has a right to live, work and worship freely and without fear. FBI employees – in Oregon and around the world – find strength in preserving and protecting these core values,” said Gregory Fowler, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Portland Division.
According to court documents and evidence presented by the government at trial, in February 2009, Mohamud began communicating via e-mail with Samir Khan, a now-deceased al-Qaeda terrorist who published Jihad Recollections, an online magazine that advocated violent jihad, and who also published Inspire, the official magazine of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Between February and August 2009, Mohamed exchanged approximately 150 emails with Khan. Mohamud wrote several articles for Jihad Recollections that were published under assumed names.
In August 2009, according to evidence presented at trial, Mohamud was in email contact with Amro Al-Ali, a Saudi national who was in Yemen at the time and is today in custody in Saudi Arabia for terrorism offenses. Al-Ali sent Mohamud detailed emails designed to facilitate Mohamud’s travel to Yemen to train for violent jihad. In December 2009, while Al-Ali was in the northwest frontier province of Pakistan, Mohamud and Al-Ali discussed the possibility of Mohamud traveling to Pakistan to join Al-Ali in terrorist activities. Mohamud responded to Al-Ali in an email: “yes, that would be wonderful, just tell me what I need to do.” Al-Ali referred Mohamud to a second associate overseas and provided Mohamud with a name and email address to facilitate the process.
In the following months, Mohamud made several unsuccessful attempts to contact Al-Ali’s associate. Ultimately, an FBI undercover operative contacted Mohamud via email under the guise of being an associate of Al-Ali’s. Mohamud and the FBI undercover operative agreed to meet in Portland in July 2010. At the meeting, Mohamud told the FBI undercover operative he had written articles that were published in Jihad Recollections. Mohamud also said that he wanted to become “operational.” Asked what he meant by “operational,” Mohamud said he wanted to put an explosion together, but needed help.
According to evidence presented at trial, at a meeting in August 2010, Mohamud told undercover FBI operatives he had been thinking of committing violent jihad since the age of 15. Mohamud then told the undercover FBI operatives that he had identified a potential target for a bomb: the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square on Nov. 26, 2010. The undercover FBI operatives cautioned Mohamud several times about the seriousness of this plan, noting there would be many people at the event, including children, and emphasized that Mohamud could abandon his attack plans at any time with no shame. Mohamud indicated the deaths would be justified and that he would not mind carrying out a suicide attack on the crowd.
According to evidence presented at trial, in the ensuing months Mohamud continued to express his interest in carrying out the attack and worked on logistics. On Nov. 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. During the drive back to Corvallis, Mohamud was asked if he was capable of looking at all the bodies of those who would be killed during the explosion. In response, Mohamud noted, “I want whoever is attending that event to be, to leave either dead or injured.” Mohamud later recorded a video of himself, with the assistance of the undercover FBI operatives, in which he read a statement that offered his rationale for his bomb attack.
On Nov. 18, 2010, undercover FBI operatives picked up Mohamud to travel to Portland to finalize the details of the attack. On Nov. 26, 2010, just hours before the planned attack, Mohamud examined the 1,800 pound bomb in the van and remarked that it was “beautiful.” Later that day, Mohamud was arrested after he attempted to remotely detonate the inert vehicle bomb parked near the Christmas tree lighting ceremony
This case was investigated by the FBI, with assistance from the Oregon State Police, the Corvallis Police Department, the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office and the Portland Police Bureau. The prosecution is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ethan D. Knight and Pamala Holsinger from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Oregon. Trial Attorney Jolie F. Zimmerman, from the Counterterrorism Section of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, is assisting.