A Somali-born teenager was arrested yesterday for attempting to detonate what he thought was a car bomb at a Christmas Tree lighting ceremony in Oregon, US authorities said.
Mohamed Osman Mohamud, 19, was charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction in connection with an alleged plot to bomb the annual event in downtown Portland, the FBI said in a statement late yesterday.
The bomb was a fake and had been provided to Mohamud as part of a long-term sting by the FBI. It also said Mohamud had been in contact with an unnamed individual overseas believed to be involved in terrorist activities.
"The threat was very real. Our investigation shows that Mohamud was absolutely committed to carrying out an attack on a very grand scale," said Arthur Balizan, a senior FBI agent in Oregon.
Agents shadowed Mohamud, who is a naturalized US citizen, for months and met him several times as the plot developed, officials said, adding he had told them that he had thought of waging violent jihad, or holy war, since the age of 15.
He went ahead with the plot despite being given a number of opportunities to drop the idea, the FBI said. It said the affidavit against Mohamud quotes him as saying: "I want whoever is attending that event (in Portland) to leave, to leave either dead or injured."
The arrest came a day after Americans celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday amid heightened security.
Mohamud is expected to make his initial appearance in a federal court in Portland on Monday. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted of the charge of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction.
Federal officials said the public had never been in danger at any time during the operation.