- Associated Press - Sunday, November 28, 2010

CORVALLIS, Ore. — Anger over a failed plan to blow up a van full of explosives during a Christmas-tree-lighting ceremony in Portland, Ore., apparently erupted in arson on Sunday when a fire damaged an Islamic center once frequented by the Somali-born teenage suspect.

Police don’t know who started the blaze or exactly why, but they believe the mosque was targeted because terror suspect Mohamed Osman Mohamud, 19, occasionally worshipped there.

The fire at the Salman Al-Farisi Islamic Center was reported at 2:15 a.m., and “quite a bit of evidence” at the scene to led authorities to believe it was set intentionally, said Carla Pusateri, a fire prevention officer for the Corvallis Fire Department. No one was injured in the blaze, which did not damage any worship areas and was contained to one room, said Yosof Wanly, imam at the center.

“We know how it is; we know some people, due to ignorance, are going to perceive of these things and hold most Muslims accountable,” Imam Wanly said in response to the blaze. “We do what we can, but it’s a tough situation.”

Mr. Mohamud was being held on charges of plotting to carry out a terror attack in Portland.

On Friday, he parked what he thought was a bomb-laden van near the ceremony and then went to a nearby train station, where he dialed a cell phone that he believed would detonate the vehicle, federal authorities said. Instead, federal authorities moved in and arrested him. No one was hurt.

The case is the latest in a string of alleged terrorist plots by U.S. citizens or residents, including one in New York’s Times Square in which a Pakistan-born man pleaded guilty earlier this year to trying to set off a car bomb at a busy street corner.

Authorities have not explained how Mr. Mohamud, an Oregon State University student until he dropped out on Oct. 6, became so radicalized. Mr. Mohamud graduated from high school in Beaverton, Ore., although few details of his time there were available Saturday.

Imam Wanly described him as a normal student who went to athletic events, drank the occasional beer and was into rap music and culture.

Officials said Mr. Mohamud had no formal ties to foreign terror groups, although he had reached out to suspected terrorists in Pakistan.

Mr. Mohamud is scheduled to appear in court on Monday, and it wasn’t clear whether he had a lawyer yet.

FBI agents said they began investigating after receiving a tip from an unidentified person who expressed concern about Mr. Mohamud. Imam Wanly said Mr. Mohamud was religious but didn’t come to the mosque consistently.

Beginning in August 2009, court documents allege, Mr. Mohamud began e-mail communications with a friend overseas who had studied in Oregon, asking how he could travel to Pakistan and join the fight for jihad.

The e-mail exchanges led the FBI to believe that Mr. Mohamud’s friend in Pakistan “had joined others involved in terrorist activities” and was inviting Mr. Mohamud to join him, prosecutors say.

Mr. Mohamud tried to board a flight to Kodiak, Alaska, on June 14 of this year from Portland but wasn’t allowed to board and was interviewed by the FBI, prosecutors said. Mr. Mohamud told the FBI he wanted to earn money fishing and then travel to join “the brothers.” He said he previously had hoped to travel to Yemen but had never obtained a ticket or a visa.

Less than two weeks later, an agent e-mailed Mr. Mohamud, pretending to be affiliated with one of the people overseas whom Mr. Mohamud had tried to contact.

Undercover agents then set up a series of face-to-face meetings with Mr. Mohamud at hotels in Portland and Corvallis.

During their first meeting on July 30, Mr. Mohamud told an agent he could help “the cause” in a number of ways, ranging from praying five times a day to “becoming a martyr.”

Mr. Mohamud said he had “thought of putting an explosion together but that he needed help doing so,” the documents said.

At a second meeting on Aug. 19 at a Portland hotel, the agent brought another undercover agent, the documents said, and Mr. Mohamud told them he had selected Pioneer Courthouse Square for the bombing.

On Nov. 4, in the back country along Oregon’s coast, agents persuaded Mr. Mohamud that he was testing an explosive device — although the explosion was controlled by agents rather than the youth.

The affidavit said Mr. Mohamud was warned several times about the seriousness of his plan, that women and children could die, and that he could back out.

Prosecutors said that after the trip to the back country, Mr. Mohamud made a video in the presence of one of the undercover agents, putting on clothes he described as “Sheik 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 getting in the way.

Friday, an agent and Mr. Mohamud drove into downtown Portland to the white van that carried six 55-gallon drums with detonation cords and plastic caps, but all of them were inert.

Authorities said they allowed the plot to proceed to obtain evidence to charge Mr. Mohamud with attempt.

Tens of thousands of Somalis have resettled in the United States since their country plunged into lawlessness in 1991, and the United States has boosted aid to the country.

Officials have been working with Muslim leaders across the United States, particularly in the Somali community in Minnesota, trying to combat the radicalization.

Imam Wanly said the local populace in Corvallis always has been accepting of Muslims.

“The common scene here is to be very friendly, accepting various cultures and religions,” Imam Wanly said. “The Islamic center has been here for 40 years; it’s more American than most Americans with regards to age.”

The fire was contained to one room, burning 80 percent of the center’s office, said Imam Wanly, who has been advised by friends to take his family out of their home “due to the possibility of hate crimes.”

“I’m going to look into it, especially because my face has been on the news a lot,” he said.

Associated Press writers Nedra Pickler, Tim Fought and William McCall contributed to this report from Portland.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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