- 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.

A crowd watches a Christmas-tree-lighting ceremony on Pioneer Courthouse Square on Friday, Nov. 26, 2010, in Portland, Ore. Federal agents in a sting operation arrested a Somali-born teenager just as he tried to blow up a van full of what he believed were explosives at the crowded event, federal authorities said. The bomb was a fake supplied by the agents, and the public was never in danger, authorities said. (AP Photo/The Oregonian, Torsten Kjellstrand)
A crowd watches a Christmas-tree-lighting ceremony on Pioneer Courthouse Square on Friday, ... more >

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.

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