The arrest warrant reads like notes for a novel that will never be finished.
First, the email message from the northwest frontier province of Pakistan to Mohamed Osman Mohamud (or MOM):
it’s me [Unindicted Associate 1, or UA1), i made it to Mecca. if u wanna come, theres a bro that will contact u about the proper paperwork u need 2 come… i cant go online 4 a while,, i hope 2 see u soon
Then a return email from MOM, somewhere in Oregon to UA1:
yes, that would be wonderful, just tell me what i need to do. always wanted to see the ka’bah.
Contact made. Now it’s time for operational security:
UA1 — hey. check this email firstname.lastname@example.org. pass is the same as the email except theres an = between the name and numbers
Anyone who’s tried to send a secret password to someone via email knows you don’t actually write the password. You do something cryptically fancy, like mask the password with a clue that is only obvious if you happen to actually read the message.
A few minutes later, from UA1:
contact abdulhadi (who will now be known as Unindicted Associate 2, or UA2)
Email addresses are unforgivingly precise. MOM sends the following email to what he thinks is the correct email address, but he confuses the address with password and writes instead to email@example.com
Abu Abdallah — how are you brother abdulhadi, I was referred to you by a friend plz get back to me as soon as possible.
MOM gets an immediate response:
Your message is undeliverable. There is no such address.
For the next 6 months, MOM keeps sending emails to that address, hoping for something other than an “undeliverable” message.
To move the plot along, we’ll leave some of the details out. But in January, MOM writes an email to a friend in Saudi Arabia asking his buddy to pray that MOM will be a martyr. In June, MOM is not allowed to get on a plane from Portland, OR to Kodiak, Alaska. He had a fishing job in Alaska, he told the FBI. MOM also told the FBI he knew UA1.
By now, MOM is on several lists.
Later in June, FBI Under Cover Employee 1 (UCE1) sent an email to MOM from a JVJV003@live.com address. The address is close, but not quite the hotmail address UA1 handed out.
hello bro…go to hushmail.com and set up an account…send a message to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, I hope to hear from you soon.
MOM does what he is instructed, and sends back:
assalaum alaykum brother how are you,
UCE1: I am good brother thank you for asking. I’m sorry for the delay in our communication, we’ve been on the move. may God reward you for responding so soon. are you still able to help the brothers? in sh’allah, I’ll hear from you soon.
MOM: I have been betrayed by my family, I was supposed to travel last year but Allah had decreed that i stay here longer than might heart desired. I am trying to find a way to go…. pray for me that allah will free my passage from the lands of the polytheists….
In late July MOM suggests a place in Portland for him and UCE1 to meet. UCE1 cites “security concerns” as a reason for not wanting to meet at the place MOM suggests. MOM starts to wonder if UCE1 is really who he says he is, and not — say — an undercover FBI employee:
and of course I will have a set of questions for you when we meet about your aqeeda to make sure you are not a spy yourself. which of course leads me to ask, that only UA1 could have given you my email address, or one or two brothers did. how did you get my email and if UA1 did give you my email then how do you know him and describe him to me if you really do know him. only as a precaution brother no hard feelings
UCE1 writes back: a brother from oregon who is now far away vouched for you. i’ll answer all your questions when we meet.
A few days later they both meet in Portland. As they are walking, UCE1 asks MOM what he’s done to prove he’s a good Muslim. MOM says he’s written a few article about jihad. [His April 2009 article in Jihad Recollections was titled “Getting in shape without weights.”]
MOM starts asking questions. How did UCE1 get MOM’s email address.
UCE1 says he “got it from the council.”
Then the big question, from UCE1 to MOM: “What would you do for the cause?”
MOM says he “could do anything.”
UCE1 says he can’t tell MOM what to do, “that is had to come from your own heart and from Allah.”
Then UCE1 suggests five options:
“pray five times a day and spread Islam to others; or continue studying and get an engineering or medical degree so he could help his brothers overseas; or raise funds for the brothers overseas; or become ‘operational; or become a ‘shaheed,” a martyr.
MOM responds immediately: “I want to be operational. But I do not know how and I will need training.”
UCE1: Elaborate please, what do you mean by being operational?
MOM: I want to put an explosion together. I’ve heard of brothers putting stuff in a car, parking it by a target, and detonating it.”
UCE1: I would be able to help with that kind of operation. I can introduce you to a brother who is an expert in explosives. Meanwhile go do some research on some possible targets. I’ll be in touch again in about a month.”
Just about all the meetings between MOM and UCE were recorded. However, according to the arrest warrant, “due to technical problems the meeting was not recorded.”
Conspiracy theories and doubt are built on much less than this. What kind of technical problems prevented this first meeting from being recorded? “How convenient,” nods the entrapment camp, knowingly.
MOM and UCE1 meet again in August, where MOM gets introduced to FBI undercover employee 2 (UCE2), the “experienced operator.” At this meeting in a Portland hotel room, the multiple audio and video recorders encounter no technical problems.
After the pleasantries, MOM says when he began thinking about using violence:
Well, when I was fifteen, I prayed about whether I should make jihad in a different country or make an operation here, like something in Mumbai. You know, it would be simple. You could get some weapons. So I prayed for guidance and it was like when I was fifteen, and I had a dream that night, and in my dream I saw the mountains of Yemen…. If you don’t sacrifice your own kids, when will victory come? There has to be sacrifice before you know any progress is made.”
MOM was 17 when Mumbai happened, not fifteen; but you know how guys in a hotel room can sometimes bullshit about the facts.
UCE 1 and 2 asked if MOM had a target yet.
MOM: Basically it’s Pioneer Square in Portland. It’s the main meeting place when they have events. Everybody comes up there. So they have, on the 26th of November, they have a Christmas lighting and some 25,000 people that come. You know the streets are packed. I thought if you could help me get a truck, you know, so that they could refrain. If you understand what I’m saying to you?
UCE1: But, what’s in your heart? So I’m just bringing it to your mind. You know there’s gonna be a lot of children there?
MOM: Yeah, I mean that’s what I’m looking for.
UCE1: For kids?
MOM: No, just for, in general just a huge mass that will be attacked in their own element with their families celebrating the holidays. And then for later to be saying this was done for you to refrain from killing our children, women…. So when they hear all these families were killed in such and such a city, they know you will stop. And its not fair they should do that to people and not be feeling it. The sheikh Usama said that America will not even dream of security.”
UCE2: I love the idea. But you can leave anytime you want. And by the way, you know there will be law enforcement at the event.
MOM: In Portland? Not really. They don’t see it as a place where anything will happen. People say, why would anybody want to do something in Portland. It’s on the west coast. It’s Oregon. And Oregon’s like, you know, no body ever thinks about it. If were like in LA or something, that’s different.
UCE2: So are you telling me that you don’t mind driving the truck and blowing it up while you’re in it?”
MOM: Yeah, I don’t mind that. [Although in September, MOM decides his preferred operation will be to park the van, leave the area, and detonate the device by using a cell phone. “The same thing happens,” and he lives to tell about it.]
UCE2: Are you sure you realize how difficult this operation would be?
MOM: Yes. I will push the button.
UCE1: Allah is looking at you right now.
MOM: Allah is always looking at me. But every day we see in newspapers and the news our people are killed. So for us to see the enemy dead would be a smile from me. You know what I like, what makes me happy? You know what I like to see? When I see the enemy of Allah and their bodies are torn everywhere.
UCE1: Are you really sure you want to do this? We want to make sure that it’s in your heart. If we get all the way there and you’re like “Uh oh;” if that happens, we’ll be disappointed but you always have a choice. You understand? With us you always have a choice.
A few days later, UCE1 tells MOM to think and pray about it. “A bomb is a very serious matter. This attack must come from the heart.”
MOM writes back:
I prayed for guidance and when i woke up my faith was sky high for no apparent reason. so i see it as a sign that the traffic light is green lol…”
[“lol” in case you don’t know stands for “laugh out loud.”]
MOM’s next task is to find a place to park the van containing the bomb, and buy some bomb components for UCE2: one Utiliteck Mechanical Programmable Timer, two Nokia prepaid cellular telephones, one heavy duty toggle switch and one heavy duty 9 volt snap connector.
The UCEs give MOM $2700 to rent an apartment that can be used as a safe house after the attack; $110 dollars will be used to buy the bomb parts.
UCE1 tells MOM how strong the bomb will be.
UCE1: And when you dial the phone number on the cell, I’m telling you, when you look at how big this bomb is you can park the car probably two blocks away, and both blocks are going to be gone.
UCE1: Yeah. When you see, when you see what he (UCE2) builds.
MOM: Wow, like two blocks?
MOM: Wow, that’s amazing. It’s gonna be a fireworks show… a spectacular show…. New York Times will give it two thumbs up….”
By October, MOM picked a location near Pioneer Square where he wanted to park the bomb-laden van. He showed the UCEs a Google street view photograph of the location.
In early November, the UCEs took MOM to a remote location in Lincoln County, Oregon to test the device.
MOM was told the purpose of the trip was to test the functioning of an explosive device. He was also told the device he would use in his planned attack was similar to the one they were going to test, but that it would be significantly larger and hundreds of times more powerful….
When they arrived at the Lincoln County location, UCE2 showed MOM an inert explosive device. The device was concealed in a blue backpack. UCE2 and MOM placed the inert device in a location previously set up by law enforcement.
While UCE 1 and 2 drove MOM to a location where they planned on detonating the device with the cell phone, bomb technicians replaced the inert device with a live explosive device.
When MOM and the UCEs reached the location, the UCEs showed MOM how to use the cell phone to detonate the bomb. MOM used the cell phone the way he had been instructed. When he did that, the bomb technicians detonated the live device.
MOM believed his actions made the bomb explode.
On the drive back, UCE1 asked MOM if he was capable of looking at the bodies of the people who would be killed at the Pioneer Square explosion.
MOM: Do you remember when 9-11 happened when those people were jumping from skyscrapers…I thought that was awesome.”
UCE1: You know you’re going to see body parts and blood.
MOM: I want to see that, that’s, that’s what I want for these people. I want whoever is attending that event to leave, to leave either dead or injured.”
When they returned to MOM’s new apartment, he made a video, to be shown after the attack. In his statement, he said,
This is a message to those who have wronged themselves and the rights of others…. A dark day is coming your way. For as long as you threaten our security, your people will not remain safe…. Did you think that you could invade a Muslim land, and we would not invade you, but Allah will have soldiers scattered everywhere across the globe. To those doubting the victory of Allah’s then we say there’s a lesson in the USSR for you, and also in the events going on in Afghanistan…. To those Muslims who reside amongst the infidels we say to them, what has stopped you from fighting in the cause of Allah? Because living here is a sin…. Explode on these infidels. Alleviate our pain. Assassinate their leaders, commanders, and chiefs from your brother to his brothers.
On November 26th, UCE 1 and 2 and MOM went to look at the “bomb.” It was packed into the back of a late-model, white full-size van.
The bomb consisted of six 55 gallon drums containing inert material, inert detonation cord, inert blasting caps, and approximately one gallon of diesel fuel which gave off a strong odor.
In the front seat of the van, FBI agents placed a detonation mechanism, consisting of a cell phone, a 9 volt battery, an arming switch and a phone jack plug. MOM looked at the bomb and smiled.
UCE2: Are you sure you want to go through with this.
MOM: I am sure
Shortly before 5 PM, UCE 2 and MOM drove to the Yamhill and Sixth Street location near Pioneer Square. The FBI and the Portland Police Bureau made sure the street and parking spot MOM picked out were opened as the van approached.
UCE2 parked the van. MOM attached the blasting cap to the device. UCE2 turned on the phone that was designed to detonate the bomb and asked MOM to flip the toggle switch. He did. Those were the same steps MOM was shown when he detonated the practice bomb in Lincoln County.
UCE2 and MOM got out of the van, walked a few blocks and then were picked up by UCE1. The three men drove to Portland’s Union Station, and dropped off UCE1.
UCE2 then pulled into a parking lot and stopped the car. He gave MOM the phone that was supposed to detonate the Pioneer Square bomb. UCE2 started to read the phone number that MOM had to dial, but MOM did not wait for the number to be read to him. He read the number off the paper UCE2 held, and dialed it faster than UCE2 could recite.
After he dialed, the FBI confirmed the call went through and the inert bomb did not detonate.
UCE2 then suggested that MOM step out of the car and try making the call again where the cell phone signal might be stronger.
MOM got out of the car and called the number again.
Then MOM was arrested. He yelled Allahu Akhbar.
I understand that to mean God is Great.
10,000 people safely attended the Christmas Tree lighting in Pioneer Square. The FBI did the prevention job many Americans want it to do, with the aid — apparently — of the Somali community. Nineteen year old Mohamed Osman Mohamud did not commit mass murder. He received a court appointed attorney who will probably argue the FBI entrapped his client. Someone set a fire at the Salman Al-Farisi Islamic Center in Corvallis, Oregon; but it apparently did little damage. The US attorney said he would prosecute the arson case aggressively.
Our Constitution is fairly great also.
What would this week — this season — be like in America if Mohamud had found someone other than the FBI to help him build and detonate a bomb?
It’s not what terrorists do to us that matters, Admiral William Crowe once said, but what we do to ourselves after we’ve been attacked.
Mohamud’s arrest warrant reads like notes for a novel that will never be finished. There will be more chapters — even in places where nothing ever happens.
What can we as a nation do to make sure we are the author of the chapters written after the next attack, and not an unthinking, knee jerk audience?