Arson at Portland Tree Lighting Bomber's Mosque

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on November 30, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Two Oregon cities are coping with violence after a teenager's bomb plot at a Christmas tree lighting ceremony was foiled.

Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a 19-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen from Somalia, was arrested Friday after allegedly attempting to detonate what he thought was a bomb at a tree lighting ceremony in Pioneer Square, in downtown Portland, Oregon. Two days later, a fire was apparently set at the Salman Alfarisi Islamic Center, a mosque occasionally attended by Mohamed Mohamud.

The Department of Justice says that Mohamud was taken into custody after he tried to detonate what he believed was a van full of explosives parked near the Portland tree lighting ceremony, reports CNN. Mohamud is charged with suspicion of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction.

The FBI was on scene at the culmination of a long investigation into the Oregon State University student apparently bent on jihad.

The Justice Department states that during a meeting in August, Mohamud allegedly told undercover FBI operatives he had been thinking of committing violent jihad since the age of 15. According to the affidavit by the DOJ, Mohamud then told undercover operatives that he had identified the Portland tree lighting ceremony as his target, reports CNN. According to the FBI, Mohamud said he was looking for a "huge mass that will ... be attacked in their own element with their families celebrating the holidays."

A charge of attempt to commit a crime is slightly different than if the crime had been fully carried out. The prosecution must prove the defendant had the intent to commit the crime and took steps in furtherance of the commission of the crime. That is why investigations like this one are careful to document any steps the suspect took, or statements made, that would show the intent to commit the crime.

Mohamed Mohamud was a Oregon State University student in Corvallis, Ore. According to The Oregonian, there is evidence the fire at the Islamic Center was deliberately set. The FBI is asking neighbors for information and help in its investigation. Mosque leaders released a statement on Saturday condemning Mohamud's alleged plot to attack Portlanders.

Ironically, the mosque suffered damage due to Mohamud's acts, but he was only an occasional visitor. The Oregonian reports that while devout members visit the mosque five times each day for prayer, mosque leaders said Mohamud had visited only once or twice a month since he arrived at OSU in the fall of 2009.

Mohamed Mohamud now faces a maximum sentence of life in prison and a $250,000 fine for his attempted bomb plot. "It's very difficult for me to comprehend how a young man who this country has given great opportunities to could waste those opportunities and be willing to commit a horrific crime," Portland Police Chief Michael Reese, told CNN. "It is very sad."

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