FBI offers $10,000 reward in attack on Corvallis Mosque

Print
Email
|

by KING 5 News and Associated Press

KING5.com

Posted on November 28, 2010 at 11:26 AM

Updated Sunday, Nov 28 at 4:07 PM

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Someone set fire to an Islamic center on Sunday, two days after a man who worshipped there was accused of trying to blow up a van full of explosives during Portland's Christmas tree lighting ceremony. Other Muslims fear it could be the first volley of misplaced retribution.

 

The charges against Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a Somali-born 19-year-old who was caught in a federal sting operation, are testing tolerance in a state that has been largely accepting of Muslims. Muslims who know the suspect say they are shocked by the allegations against him and that they had given them no hint of falling into radicalism.

The fire at the Salman Alfarisi Islamic Center in Corvallis was reported at 2:15 a.m., and evidence at the scene led authorities believe it was set intentionally, said Carla Pusateri, a fire prevention officer for the Corvallis Fire Department.

Authorities don't know who started the blaze or exactly why, but they believe the center was targeted because Mohamud occasionally worshipped there.

"We have made it quite clear that the FBI will not tolerate any kind of retribution or attack on the Muslim community," said Arthur Balizan, special agent in charge of the FBI in Oregon.

Mohamud was being held on charges of plotting to carry out a terror attack Friday on a crowd of thousands at Portland's Pioneer Courthouse Square. He is scheduled to appear in court on Monday, and it wasn't clear if he had a lawyer yet.

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.

There were also no injuries in Sunday's fire, which burned 80 percent of the center's office but did not spread to worship areas or any other rooms, said Yosof Wanly, the center's imam.

After daybreak, members gathered at the center, where a broken window had been boarded up.

"I've prayed for my family and friends, because obviously if someone was deliberate to do this, what's to stop them from coming to our homes and our schools?" said Mohamed Alyagouri, a 31-year-old father of two who worships at the center. "I'm afraid for my children getting harassed from their teachers, maybe from their friends."

Wanly said he was thinking about temporarily relocating his family because of the possibility of hate crimes.

"We know how it is, we know some people due to ignorance are going to perceive of these things and hold most Muslims accountable," Wanly said. "We do what we can, but it's a tough situation."

The imam said Corvallis, a college town about 75 miles southwest of Portland, has long been accepting of Muslims.

"The common scene here is to be very friendly, accepting various cultures and religions," Wanly said. "The Islamic center has been here for 40 years, it's more American than most Americans with regards to age."

The FBI was working closely with leadership at the center as agents investigated the fire, Balizan said. A $10,000 reward was offered for information leading to an arrest.

Authorities have not explained how Mohamud, an Oregon State University student until he dropped out on Oct. 6, became so radicalized. Mohamud graduated from high school in the Portland suburb of Beaverton, although few details of his time there were available Saturday.

Wanly described him as a normal student who went to athletic events, drank an occasional beer and was into rap music and culture. He described Mohamud as religious, saying he attended prayers in Corvallis once or twice a month over a year and a half.

Wanly, 24, said that in about 15 conversations he had with Mohamud, the teen rarely discussed religion. He said that may have been because Mohamud knew his extremist views wouldn't be tolerated, and suggested that Mohamud was influenced by radical teaching he read on the Internet.

"If a person has a type of agenda, he can find anything he wants on the Internet and block out everything else," Wanly said.

In the days leading up to his arrest, Mohamud's friends thought he appeared on edge, Wanly said.

"He seemed to be in a state of confusion," Wanly said. "He would say things that weren't true. He'd say 'I'm going to go get married,' for example. He wasn't going to go get married."

Mohamud is among tens of thousands of Somalis who have resettled in the United States since their country plunged into lawlessness in 1991. The U.N.-backed government controls only a few blocks of Mogadishu, the capital, while large parts of Somalia are controlled by the insurgent group Al-Shabab, which vows allegiance to al-Qaida.

Omar Jamal, first secretary for the Somali mission to the United Nations in New York City, told The Associated Press his office has received "thousands of calls" from Somalis in the United States who are concerned about tactics used by federal agents in the sting operation against Mohamud.

Jamal said there is concern in the Somali community that Mohamud was "lured into an illegal act."

"Rest assured that the community is very against anyone who tries to do harm to the citizens of this country," Jamal said in a phone call.

But many Somalis in the United States are wondering whether Mohamud's "rights have been violated" by federal agents in the sting operation, he said. "What did they tell him to go along with this heinous crime?" Jamal said.

An FBI affidavit said it was Mohamud who picked the target of the bomb plot, that he was warned several times about the seriousness of his plan, that women and children could die, and that he could back out.

Officials said Mohamud had no formal ties to foreign terror groups, although he had reached out to suspected terrorists in Pakistan.

FBI agents say they began investigating after receiving a tip from an unidentified person who expressed concern about Mohamud. This summer an agent e-mailed Mohamud, pretending to be affiliated with an "unindicted associate" whom Mohamud had tried to contact.

Agents had some face-to-face meetings with Mohamud. On Nov. 4, in the backcountry along Oregon's coast, they convinced him that he was testing an explosive device -- although the explosion was controlled by agents rather than the youth.

On Friday, an agent and Mohamud drove into downtown Portland to the white van that carried six 55-gallon drums with detonation cords and plastic caps, but all of them were inert.

Authorities said they allowed the plot to proceed to obtain evidence to charge the suspect with plotting to carrying out the attack.

Print
Email
|