Looking Back: The Portland Annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony Bomb Plot, November 26, 2010

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Today, November 26, 2012, is the second anniversary of the foiled terrorist plot to bomb Portland’s annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Pioneer Courthouse Square. On that day in 2010, Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a naturalized US citizen from Mogadishu, Somalia, attempted to detonate a vehicle bomb near a packed Christmas lighting ceremony; however, the (fake) explosives he acquired for the attack were provided to him as part of an FBI sting operation.

Prior to Mohamud’s arrest, the FBI was granted court authorization to begin surveillance after being tipped off by an unknown source. The FBI found emails from August 2009 that showed Mohamud had been communicating with a contact who was attempting to assist him with traveling to Yemen. The FBI affidavit says that a second email in December 2009 showed Mohamud was working to join the man in an attempt to prepare for “jihad.” The IP address associated with the email showed that it was sent from the northwestern frontier province of Pakistan, an area notorious for militant training camps. The FBI agent in the affidavit believed the email from Yemen and Pakistan were from the same individual.

Mohamud was later stopped and questioned after attempting to fly to Alaska in June 2010. While being questioned he named the contact he was communicating with via email. He later attempted to contact another individual; however, after getting the email address and password confused, he was unable to make contact. The FBI used the confusion to set up another email account which aided in the FBI sting operation.

At one point Mohamud talked to two FBI undercover employees about when he first started thinking about jihad:
“Well, when I was fifteen you know I had a, I was- I made [a special prayer for guidance] about whether I should you know … should go you know and make jihad in a different country or to make like an operation here you know like, something like Mumbai. You know, it would be simple you know you could get some weapon you know. So I made [a special prayer for guidance] and it was like when I was
fifteen so, I had a dream that night, and in my dream you know I saw the mountains of Yemen ….”

Mohamud talked with undercover agents numerous times over a period of several months, planning and eventually acquiring an inert bomb built by FBI bomb technicians. On the day of the attack, Mohamud was asked numerous times if he was sure he wanted to carry out the attack, which he repeatedly answered in the affirmative. Shortly after parking the van containing the inert bomb at the Christmas tree lighting, Mohamud and an undercover agent eventually drove to a predetermined arrest location where Mohamud twice dialed the number he was told would detonate the bomb. After the second call Mohamud was taken into custody after a brief struggle.

Domestic terrorism and radicalization continue to be a cause for concern here in the US, especially in light of recent plots like the one on November 26, 2010. To better understand these important issues, HSDL encourages readers/visitors to view content regarding lone wolf terrorism, radicalization, and extremism, by visiting the HSDL Featured Topics webpages listed below.

Domestic Terrorism: Jihadist/Islamist

Domestic Terrorism: Extremism

Domestic Terrorism: Single-Issue Terrorism/Special-Interest Extremism

Lone Wolf Terrorism

Article formerly posted at https://www.hsdl.org/blog/newpost/view/s_4670