US law-enforcement agents stopped a Somali-born teenager from blowing up a van full of explosives at a Christmas tree lighting ceremony on Friday in Portland, Oregon, federal authorities said yesterday.
The explosives were duds supplied by the agents as part of a sting operation and the public was never in danger, authorities said.
Mohamed Osman Mohamud, 19, was arrested at 5.40pm just after he dialled a mobile phone that he thought would detonate the explosives but, instead, brought federal agents and Portland police officers swooping down on him.
Yelling “Allahu Akbar!”, Mr Mohamud tried to kick agents and police as they closed in, according to prosecutors.
“The threat was very real,” said Arthur Balizan, a special agent in charge of the FBI in Oregon. “Our investigation shows that Mohamud was absolutely committed to carrying out an attack on a very grand scale.”
Mohamud, a naturalised US citizen living in Corvallis, Oregon, was charged with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and is scheduled for a court appearance tomorrow.
“While the public was never in danger from the device, this case serves as yet another reminder of the need for continued vigilance both at home and abroad,” David Kris, assistant attorney general for national security, said in a statement.
US Attorney Dwight Holton released federal court documents to The Associated Press and the Oregonian newspaper that show the sting operation began in June after an undercover agent learned that Mr Mohamud had been in regular e-mail contact with an “unindicted associate” in Pakistan’s north-west frontier region, where al Qa’eda and Afghanistan’s Taliban insurgents are strong.
Mr Mohamud and the associate used coded language in an e-mail in which the FBI believes Mr Mohamud discussed travelling to Pakistan to prepare for “violent jihad”, the documents said.
Last June an FBI agent contacted Mr Mohamud “under the guise of being affiliated with the first associate”.
Mr Mohamud and the undercover agent met in Portland on July 30 where the agent and Mohamud “discussed violent jihad,” according to the court document.
Prosecutors alleged that Mr Mohamud later mailed bomb components to FBI operatives, who he believed were assembling the device.
“This defendant’s chilling determination is a stark reminder that there are people – even here in Oregon – who are determined to kill Americans,” Mr Holton said.
Earlier this month, Mr Mohamud and the agents travelled to the Oregon backcountry and detonated a bomb as a trial run. On the drive back, the undercover officials asked Mr Mohamud if he was capable of looking at the bodies of those killed, according to the federal documents.
“Mohamud responded, ‘I want whoever is attending that event to leave, to leave either dead or injured.’ ”
He said he wanted to set off explosives at the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square.
Yesterday, an undercover agent and Mr Mohamud drove to downtown Portland in a white van that carried six 55-gallon drums with detonation cords and plastic caps, but all of them were inert, the complaint states.
They got out of the van and walked to meet another undercover agent, who drove to Union Station, the Portland train station, where Mr Mohamud was given a mobile phone that he thought would blow up the van, according to the complaint.
Mr Mohamud dialled the phone the agents had given him, and was told the bomb did not detonate. The undercover agents suggested he get out of the car and try again to improve the signal, when he did, he was arrested, the complaint said.
Omar Jamal, first secretary to the Somali mission to the United Nations, condemned the plot and urged Somalis to cooperate with police and the FBI.
“Talk to them and tell them what you know so we can all be safe,” Mr Jamal said.
US authorities have been struggling against a recent spate of terror plans by US citizens or residents.
* Compiled from reports of the Associated Press and Agence France-Presse