Posts Tagged ‘ Alaska ’

Teen Held in Alleged Portland Bomb Plot

By Bob Drogin and April Choi for The Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Washington and Corvallis, Ore. — In August, the FBI says, 19-year-old Mohamed Osman Mohamud told two men who claimed to be Al Qaeda operatives that he had considered violent jihad since he was 15, and that he now was ready to commit mass slaughter.

Mohamud, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Somalia, said he wanted to set off a bomb during the lighting of a giant Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving in an outdoor plaza in downtown Portland, Ore. The festive ceremony on the busiest shopping day of the year normally draws thousands of people.

“You know, the streets are packed,” said Mohamud, at the time a student at Oregon State University in Corvallis. When one of the men responded that “a lot of children” would attend, according to an FBI affidavit, he replied, “Yeah, I mean, that’s what I’m looking for.”

Mohamud — tall, thin and known for enjoying rap music and pickup basketball — reportedly shrugged off concerns about security at the event, explaining: “They don’t see it as a place where anything will happen…. It’s on the West Coast, it’s in Oregon, and Oregon’s like you know, nobody ever thinks about it.”

But the two men were undercover FBI agents, and audio and video recorders captured that conversation and many others like it. Mohamud now sits in federal custody — the latest alleged domestic terrorist to fall for an elaborate FBI sting — after months of secret surveillance and a grisly plot worthy of Jack Bauer.

A 38-page FBI affidavit released Saturday paints Mohamud as highly determined and deadly serious. He is charged with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. He is due in court Monday.

“The threat was very real,” said Arthur Balizan, 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.”

According to the FBI, they arrested Mohamud after he dialed a cellphone that he thought would detonate a huge bomb — six 55-gallon drums, diesel fuel and a large box of screws — in a large white van parked near the tree lighting.

But the bomb was a fake built by the FBI, and the packed crowds who enjoyed a youth choir and a symphony orchestra at Friday’s holiday celebration at Pioneer Courthouse Square were never in danger, authorities said.

Mohamud appears to have joined a growing list of amateurs who have shown more fervor than smarts in their apparent plots against America. His alleged operation unfolded under the careful supervision, and with the direct assistance, of undercover FBI agents.

Aided by good luck and good intelligence, U.S. authorities have disrupted or uncovered at least 15 homegrown terrorist conspiracies over the last two years, often by penetrating the scheme at an early stage and carefully orchestrating the results.

Two domestic attacks have produced casualties — the shooting deaths of 13 people at Ft. Hood, Texas, and the slaying of an Army recruiter in Little Rock, Ark., both last year. Another plot, involving a failed car bomb in New York’s Times Square in May, was traced to a Pakistani-born U.S. citizen, who was arrested and pleaded guilty.

The alleged plot in Portland also would have carried the potential for mass slaughter.

According to the affidavit:

The FBI began tracking Mohamud in August 2009 when they discovered he was e-mailing a former Oregon student who was living in Pakistan’s lawless northwest region, where Al Qaeda has a stronghold. The Associated Press reported that the bureau was led to Mohamud by a tip from someone concerned about him.

By December, Mohamud was trying to visit the area. His friend, who was not named in court documents, urged him to contact an associate named Abdulhadi to arrange the trip. But Mohamud repeatedly mixed up the Hotmail address with the password, and the e-mails bounced back.

Apparently frustrated, Mohamud tried to fly to Kodiak, Alaska, on June 10. He already was on a no-fly list, however, and was stopped from boarding at Portland International Airport. He told the FBI that he had hoped to go to Yemen, but couldn’t obtain a visa or ticket, so had gotten a summer fishing job in Alaska instead.

Two weeks later, an FBI undercover agent contacted Mohamud and pretended to be Abdulhadi, providing an e-mail address that the FBI controlled. Mohamud and the agent met for the first time on July 30 in downtown Portland.

Mohamud boasted that he had written in support of violent jihad for an online, English-language propaganda magazine called Jihad Recollections, using the pen name Ibnul Mubarak.

The FBI later recovered the three articles, including one titled “Getting in shape without weights.” It seeks to introduce Pilates training to those preparing “physically for jihad.”

Mohamud also submitted an article to Inspire, an extremist magazine published by the media arm of the Al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen. Samir Khan, a Pakistani-American, allegedly ran Jihad Recollections from his parents’ home in Charlotte, N.C. He moved to Yemen last year and now is believed to edit Inspire.

Mohamud told “Abdulhadi” that he “initially wanted to wage war in the U.S.” The FBI agent told Mohamud he could not tell him what to do, but suggested several options, including going “operational” or becoming a shaheed, or martyr. Mohamud said he wanted to build a car bomb, but would need help.

At Oregon State, about 80 miles south of Portland, Mohamud had a benign profile. “He wasn’t the most social person, but he wasn’t anti-social,” said Omar Mohamed, president of the Muslim Student Assn. “He seemed like a pretty normal guy.”

Mohamud also was not known for being particularly pious. “From what I understand, he wasn’t the most religious person,” Mohamed said. “He didn’t regularly go to mosque.”

And unlike some Muslim students, he was known to attend college parties where alcohol was served, though it was unclear whether Mohamud actually drank.

On Aug. 19, Mohamud and “Abdulhadi” met again — in a bugged hotel room — and “Abdulhadi” brought another undercover FBI agent, who claimed to be an expert in explosives. Mohamud told them that he had begun thinking of jihad when he was 15.

The FBI affidavit then goes on to say how he described his plan to bomb the Nov. 26 event.

“They have a Christmas lighting and some 25,000 people that come,” he said. They should “be attacked in their own element with their families celebrating the holidays,” he added, quoting Osama bin Laden.

He said he had scouted where Black Friday shoppers streaming from nearby stores would likely gather in the busy outdoor square. The tree lighting was scheduled for 5:30 p.m., “so I was thinking that would be the perfect time.”

The trio met again Sept. 7. This time, the undercover agents asked Mohamud to buy the bomb components. They gave him $2,700 in cash to rent an apartment where they could all hide, and $110 to cover the cost of the bomb parts.

Over the next few weeks, the affidavit says, Mohamud mailed them a Utiliteck programmable timer, two Nokia cellphones, stereo phone jacks, a toggle switch and other gear, mostly from Radio Shack. One package also had a pack of gum and a scrawled note: “Good Luck with ur stereo system Sweetie. Enjoy the Gum.”

They held more meetings in early October in Corvallis, and Mohamud gave them a computer thumb drive with Google street-view photographs of his preferred parking spot, the attack site and escape routes. And he enthused again about his plan.

“It’s going to be a fireworks show… a spectacular show… New York Times will give it two thumbs up.”

According to the university, Mohamud stopped attending the school that month.

On Nov. 4, Mohamud and the two agents drove to a remote location near the coast west of Corvallis, supposedly to test the homemade bomb design. In reality, federal agents remotely detonated a device.

On the way home, he recalled the Sept. 11 attacks. “Do you remember when 9/11 happened, when those people were jumping from skyscrapers? … I thought that was awesome.” He said he hoped people attending the tree lighting would “leave either dead or injured.”

That afternoon, the undercover agents helped Mohamud record a video statement. Explaining that he wanted to dress “Sheik Osama style,” he donned a white robe and camouflage jacket. He then read a lengthy testimonial to jihad on camera. According to an FBI transcript of the statement, Mohamud, who was born in Mogadishu, briefly mentions his parents and suggests they had tried to steer him on another path in life. Arabic phrases are set off in brackets:

“To my parents, who held me back from jihad in the cause of Allah. I say to them [by Allah] if you — if you make allies with the enemy, then Allah’s power [the glorified and exalted] will ask you about that on the day of judgment, and nothing you can do can hold me back.”

In a follow-up meeting, their seventh, he gave the FBI agents hard hats, safety glasses, and reflective vests and gloves. He said they would wear the gear before the attack as a disguise, and put traffic markers around the parked van.

Abdulhadi, the first FBI agent, picked up Mohamud at about noon Friday, and they went to inspect the bomb. Built by FBI technicians, it appeared impressive. But the explosives, the detonation cord and the blasting caps all were inert.

“Beautiful,” Mohamud said.

At 4:45 p.m., they drove the van to Yamhill and Sixth Street and parked. Police had secretly kept the space open. Mohamud attached the blasting cap and flipped the toggle switch to arm the bomb, then put on his hard hat.

They walked several blocks, got in another car and drove to a pre-selected parking lot. Mohamud quickly dialed the number to detonate the bomb. When they didn’t hear anything, he got out of the car to look for a better signal, and FBI agents swarmed in for the arrest.

An Oregon State student directory listed an apartment address for Mohamud in the Portland suburb of Beaverton. A woman who answered the apartment door declined to speak with a reporter. Hanging to the right of the door was a heart-shaped sign with the words “Bless this home.”

When Mohamud attended Oregon State, he was not a member of the Muslim Student Assn. and rarely attended events held by the group. But Mohamed, the association president, recalls that Mohamud had recently attended “Night of the Crescent: Understanding Muslims,” a program aimed at showing that “Muslims in general are not scary people. They are neighbors, your best friends. We’re not all scary men with beards.”

That was Nov. 17. The next day, Mohamud met with the undercover agents to continue planning the attack.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s NoteWe are thankful on this Thanksgiving Day weekend that the FBI folied this terror attack in Oregon and averted the loss of countless innocent lives. Both the authorities and Muslim Americans as a whole must keep vigilant about others like Mohamud in their midst who have extremist views and want to do us harm.

Flood Relief: A US Helicopter Pilot’s Tale

By John Bockmann for The Express Tribune

I am an American helicopter pilot in Pakistan.  My colleagues and I came because Pakistan and its people are enduring the aftermath of a devastating flood.  We were ordered to be here, and we miss our homes, but most of us are glad to help because we believe it’s the right thing to do.

I did not know much about Pakistan before I arrived here.  I knew of the food.  I knew of monsoons and Mohenjo Daro, Karachi and the Khyber Pass, but I had no concept of what Pakistan looked, felt, or sounded like. I even thought many Pakistanis would want us to leave.

I had no idea what the people would be like in person.  I wondered if they would resemble the images I’d seen on TV – would they protest our presence in the streets?  Would they tolerate us?  Or would they simply ignore us and go about their business?

After a few weeks of packing and planning, we were ready to deploy.  Full of excitement and some anxiety, I kissed my wife, took one last picture and was gone. We flew on a cargo jet from Alaska to Islamabad and the flight took so long I hardly knew whether it was day or night when we finally arrived.  Shouldering my gear, I headed to the terminal, weaving among Pakistani military and civilians on the tarmac.  A US Marine captain guided my group inside where we filled out information cards and relaxed in the cool quietness, surveying our area; smooth stone floors, low-slung furniture, and ceiling fans spinning high above.  The captain was talking to a Pakistani man who had been helping us.  Before we left, the man shook my hand and looked me in the eyes. “Thank you for coming to my poor country,” he said quietly.

I wanted to convey the depth of my feelings toward him and his homeland, but all I said was, “You would probably do the same for us” as I walked away.

That was my first interaction with a Pakistani here.

The days since arriving have passed quickly.  Every day we take rice, flour, blankets, housing materials, cooking oil – anything – up and down the Swat and Indus River Valleys.  We also bring sick, injured, and displaced people to hospitals and hometowns.

My first mission took us up the Indus river valley, and I embarrassed myself by constantly exclaiming its beauty.  Below me was the Karakorum Highway – the old Silk Road into China – and the valley itself, with terraced farmland overshadowed by majestic, snow-capped mountains.

Along with the beauty, though, I see reminders of the flood, bridges that are broken or missing and roads and fields that have been washed away.  I am beginning to see widespread reconstruction now as well and feel hope for the people in these villages.  They will soon have another way to get help.

I realize that some who read this will question our intentions and some may even wish us ill.  I certainly did not imagine that cheering throngs would greet us at each village though – we are always welcomed.  I did not expect our goodwill to be taken at face value by all of Pakistan, but we have received immense support.

I have learned in my time here that Pakistani people are truly gracious.  Strangers have invited me for chai and conversation.  Almost anyone will shake my hand and ask my name, inquire about my health and how I am getting along.  Instead of a handshake at our first meeting, I have sometimes been embraced.  “Strangers shake hands,” my new friend Mahmood explained, “but brothers hug each other.”

This warms my heart.  My mission, our mission, is straightforward, noble, and good.  I am deeply grateful to those who support us here, for we need all the help we can get in order to help those in need.   I am honored to do this work. I feel at home here beyond anything I could have expected.

Ah, home!  I miss my home, my wife and family; each day I wonder when I will see them again. But we have a humanitarian mission to accomplish.  Since I must be away, I’m glad that I am here, doing work that’s needed and good.

When I do return home, I will bring with me hundreds of pictures, dozens of journal entries, six duffel bags, and several recipes for local dishes that I have enjoyed, but I will also bring innumerable memories that I will treasure for life — memories of Pakistan and its people.  They have surprised me with friendship.  I hope that through our work of compassion we may surprise them with friendship as well.

The Next Ronald Reagan?

By James T Hackett for The Washington Times

Ronald Reagan was an American original and a unique political phenomenon. He combined unusual charm and personality and showed common sense that connected with the average American. He was attacked viciously by the political elites, who saw his popular appeal – and his opposition to big government and high taxes – as a threat to their domination of the nation’s politics.

Conservatives have been searching for a new Ronald Reagan, so far without success. But perhaps the Gipper’s heir is in sight. Sarah Palin is remarkably similar to the late president. The Mama Grizzly from Alaska is certainly an American original, and her success in picking political winners against the odds has shown that she is no less a political phenomenon. And the policies she supports are similar – small government and low taxes, plus energy self-sufficiency and a balanced budget.

Just as Reagan was denigrated as an ex-movie actor with limited education, Mrs. Palin is portrayed as an ex-model with limited education, which means she did not go to Harvard or Yale, like most recent presidents and much of the liberal elite. The fact that elites from those institutions have nearly destroyed the economy and bankrupted the country does not reduce their arrogance or diminish their efforts to hold onto power.

Mrs. Palin was roundly criticized when she left the office of governor of Alaska, but since then, she has been riding a populist wave accompanied by Tea Party activists who want a return to common sense and responsible spending. President Obama promised change, which many sought after the budget excesses of the George W. Bush years and the pork-obsessed Republican Congress. But candidate Obama was unclear, telling each audience what it wanted to hear.

Now we know what he meant by change – a much bigger federal government, excessive government spending, harsh new energy and environmental regulations on business, spending in support of labor unions and the bailout of profligate state governments. Under Mr. Obama, the environmentalists are running amok, spending billions on windmills, electric cars and other green-energy schemes while blocking oil drilling in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico.

The administration does not care that giving money to the states only perpetuates their overspending while doing little to help unemployment. At the same time, their anti-oil bias and excessive regulation are reducing jobs in the all-important private sector. The Keynesian economists in control will not accept that their policies are aggravating the problem.

Most Tea Party activists are grass-roots Americans who see what Washington elites cannot, which is why they keep winning. Sarah Palin has become a political power by encouraging Republican women to run for office and by her amazing ability to pick winners – and often help them win – even against heavy opposition spending. With Mrs. Palin’s support, Republican women are becoming politically successful in growing numbers.

Mrs. Palin has endorsed more than 20 winners in Republican primaries this year, many underdogs who were given little chance against the party’s chosen candidates. Among her notable successes have been the nominations of Nikki Haley, an Indian-American woman, for governor of South Carolina; Carly Fiorina, a former corporate executive running against Sen. Barbara Boxer in California; Rand Paul, a maverick candidate for U.S. Senate in Kentucky; and Susana Martinez, running for governor of New Mexico. Now she is supporting another maverick, Sharron Angle, in her high-profile race against Harry Reid, the Democrats’ Senate leader.

But Mrs. Palin’s biggest success has to be the amazing turnaround in last week’s Alaska election for the Republican Senate nomination. It is very hard to oust an entrenched incumbent such as Sen. Lisa Murkowski, daughter of a former senator and governor, with eight years in office. Her opponent, a virtually unknown lawyer, Joe Miller, was considered a hopeless candidate, with polls showing him far behind and practically no one picking him to win, except Sarah Palin.

Yet, with Mrs. Palin’s endorsement, he came from behind to win the Election Day count by 1,668 votes. The final result waits for the counting of absentee and contested ballots, but the turnaround has nonetheless been spectacular. Mrs. Palin has shown she is a force to reckon with, which is why the left is attacking her so relentlessly.

The question is whether she can apply her keen political instincts and the grass-roots support she generates to become the next Ronald Reagan. The liberal powers clearly fear that she can.

 

-James T. Hackett is a former Reagan administration official and Heritage Foundation writer.

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