PORTLAND, Ore. – Those who know 19-year-old Mohamed Osman Mohamud say the Somali-born man seemed to be a normal American trying to make a change in the world around him.
"He seemed like he wants to do something to change something," said Yosof Wanly, an imam at the AlFarisi Islamic Center. "That's what he thinks in his own mind and he took that initiative."
Wanly said Mohamud had a difficult childhood, moving from Somalia at a young age with his father before relocating to Beaverton. And, just one year before meeting with undercover FBI operatives to allegedly plan a deadly attack on Portland's downtown, Mohamud Osman Mohamed was in class at Westview High School in Beaverton.
Mohamud lived with his family in Beaverton until a year ago, when his parents separated and he graduated. After graduation he took classes at Oregon State University, through winter term 2010.
He enrolled in OSU again this fall, taking pre-engineering classes as a non-degree-seeking student at OSU and living off-campus in Corvallis. However, university officials say he dropped out in early October.
This is the profile of a teen now said to have plotted "a spectacular show" of terrorism for months. However, he never got the chance.
Not a suicide bombing
The 19 year old was arrested Friday in downtown Portland after using a cell phone to try to detonate what he thought were explosives in a van, prosecutors said. It turned out to be a dummy bomb put together by FBI agents, and authorities said the public was never in danger.
In the Portland plot, Mohamud believed he was receiving help from a larger ring of jihadists as he communicated with undercover agents. A law enforcement official who wasn't authorized to discuss the case publicly and spoke on a condition of anonymity told The Associated Press that no foreign terrorist organization was directing him. The official said Mohamud planned the details, including where to park the van to hurt the most people.
"I want whoever is attending that event to leave, to leave dead or injured," Mohamud said, according to the affidavit.
Mohamud reportedly did not plan it as a suicide attack. Instead, undercover FBI agents posing as Pakistani contacts arrested him at Union Station – Portland's Amtrak and Greyhound bus station – after he tried to detonate the fake van bomb using a cell phone.
"This gentleman, at every turn, stated and restated his motivation – his intent – to carry this out," said Portland's FBI Special Agent in Charge Arthur Balizan. "We did not lead him along. He was the one that selected the types of devices, the target, the location, the date. Those are all his ideas."
Completing the picture
Now a clearer picture emerges of who Mohamed is and where he lived and learned.
Mohamud's last known address was in Beaverton. He grew up in Beaverton, attended local mosques and attended local schools including two elementary schools in Southwest Portland, reports a KATU YouNews contributor. See the elementary yearbook photos.
His recent friends describe him as a typical college kid – one who loved to party. Most say they heard about the terror plot on our news, and were shocked when they saw their friend's booking photo.
"I was in shock when I first saw him," said friend Mujahid El-Naser, a student at Portland State University. "I saw the picture and I was like, 'That has to be somebody else.' And then when I saw the name I was like, 'Oh my ... this can’t be true.”
People who knew him say Mohamud was a devout Muslim, but not a follower of radical Islam. He was a teen who loved baseketball, soccer, rap music, his family and his friends.
The leader at a local Somali center, and a close family friend, says this has hit Mohamed's family hard: "This is not expected from him," said Isgow Mohamed, "because he is a young man who went to college. He was expecting a good life."
Some of the friends said they attended mosque and studied the Koran with Mohamed at the Islamic Learning Center in Southwest Portland. A few said they have known him since elementary school and classes at Jackson Middle School. They even stayed in touch through Facebook as they got older.
Through all of this they say they never heard a violent word from Mohamed – certainly not the talk of killing thousands like he is accused.
“He’s very peaceful," said El-Naser.
And so the conjecture begins, about how this peaceful, fun-loving teen could become embroiled in such a sinister plot.
“I think maybe they kept talking to him and kind of changed his mind-set and got him to do it – by the way they talked to him," el-Naser muses. "If you talk to someone enough, they will become convinced that they need to do something – and I think that’s what they might have done with him.”
However, the arrest warrant references articles they believe Mohamed Mohamud wrote under the alias "Ibnul Mubarak." (Our review of documents has his penname spelled "Ibn al-Mubarak.") Below are pdfs of these articles, published in the first edition of "Jihad Recollections," a jihadist magazine written in English. Some say it's geared at youth. Agents say Mohmaud also sent an article to "Inspire," an Al Queda publication.
- April 2009: "Getting Into Shape Without Weights" by Ibn al-Mubarak (cover)
- May 2009: "Preparing for the long nights" by Ibn al-Mubarak (cover)
- August 2009: "Assessing the Role and Influence of As-Sahab Media" (cover)
We also know that his vehicle is registered to an apartment on Southwest Merlo Court in Beaverton. When we knocked on the door, a young woman answered – and then slammed the door shut.
Next door, someone recognized Mohamud but didn't know him.
A few doors down at the apartment complex is Patty Connelly, who says she learned about the terror plot this morning.
"I was down there with my kids," Connelly said of her Friday-night trip to Pioneer Square for the near-fateful tree-lighting ceremony. It's "the only time I've ever been so ... scared."
Now she's finding out the man police say is behind it was most likely living nearby.
"It's kind of scary, really scary," she said.
As we finish talking to Connelly and other neighbors, we see several groups of Somalian women headed to the apartment. Mohamud Osman Mohamed is said to be born in Somalia, an agricultural country on the horn of Africa. However, no one would talk with us at that apartment.
At a mosque on Southwest 160th Avenue in Beaverton, where Mohamud is believed to have attended religious services, no one would comment either. But a Washington County Sheriff's patrol car sat in the parking lot, and the sheriff's deputy on duty told us he is there to keep the peace and protect the mosque from any attack in retaliation.
The Muslim community has spoken out sharply against Mohamud's reported actions. In a meeting with the press on Saturday evening, local leaders condemned violent attacks – for any reason.
FBI: He knew kids could die
To get a further idea of who Mohamud is, and how far he was willing to go, the affadavit for his arrest reads Mohamud told FBI agents he did not care that kids would die if his plan to bomb downtown Portland succeeded. Indeed, just 10 minutes before Mohamud's 5:40 p.m. arrest, babies were sitting on shoulders, and children cheered at the first appearance of Santa Claus onstage in the outdoor area known as "Portland's Living Room."
It's also alleged that, after Mohamud saw the planes crash into the World Trade Center in 2001, he said it "was awesome."
The FBI began monitoring Mohamud's e-mail after receiving a tip. They found he was in contact with people overseas, asking how he could travel to Pakistan and join the fight for jihad, according to an FBI affidavit.
The law enforcement official said Mohamud e-mailed a friend living in Pakistan who had been a student in Oregon in 2007 and 2008. The e-mail exchanges led the FBI to believe that Mohamud's friend in Pakistan "had joined others involved in terrorist activities" and was inviting Mohamud to join him, according to the affidavit.
Earlier this month authorities say Mohamud helped detonate a test bomb in rural Lincoln County, Ore.
Mohamud, now a naturalized U.S. citizen after coming to Portland from Somolia as a child, will make his first court appearance Monday. He is charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction after parking a van near Pioneer Square Friday night with six 55-gallon drums he thought were filled with explosives.
- Associated Press reporters Tim Fought and Nedra Pickler contributed to this report. KVAL Reporter Kelly Koopmans and KATU Reporters Adam Ghassemi, Margy Lynch, Bob Heye and Thom Jenson also individually contributed information to this report.
Watch the reports on Mohamud's background from KATU Reporters Bob Heye and Margy Lynch: