LOS ANGELES: A suspected arson attack destroyed part of a mosque attended by the US-Somali man who is accused of plotting a car bomb attack in the US state of Oregon, on the eve of his appearance in court Monday.
One room in the Corvallis Mosque, in the hometown of 19-year-old Mohamed Osman Mohamud, was gutted in the overnight blaze while neighboring rooms suffered smoke damage, said the town's fire department.
Mohamud will appear in court Monday after being arrested in a sting operation by the FBI while attempting to detonate what he thought was a car bomb at a crowded Christmas tree lighting ceremony Friday evening.
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) officers are also involved in investigating the Corvallis blaze, as well as local police, Corvallis official Andy Louden told AFP.
“The fire appears to have been intentionally set,” said the Corvallis Fire Department in a statement, adding there were no injuries. The fire was sparked shortly after 2:00 am and extinguished within 10 minutes.
The mosque's imam, Yosof Wanly, said he knew Mohamed Osman Mohamud, who began attending about 18 months ago but did not come regularly. “I knew him as a student,” he told the local CBS affiliate KVAL.
“He never discussed jihad and it's unfortunate because he is bringing attention to Islam in a negative way. It's unfortunate that this one individual brings negativity to the Islamic religion.”Mohamud was arrested Friday after he tried to remotely detonate what he thought was an explosives-laden van parked near the tree ceremony, which went ahead in state capital Portland's Pioneer Courthouse Square.
But the device was, in fact, a fake supplied by undercover agents from the FBI who had contacted Mohamud months before and pretended to be accomplices in the plot.
“The threat was very real. Our investigation shows that Mohamud was absolutely committed to carrying out an attack on a very grand scale,” said FBI special agent Arthur Balizan.
According to court documents, Mohamud exchanged emails with a contact in Pakistan's northwest frontier province late last year, and discussed the possibility of Mohamud traveling to Pakistan to engage in jihad.
In June this year an FBI undercover agent contacted Mohamud -- a naturalized US citizen registered at the University of Oregon -- pretending to be an associate of his Pakistani contact.
After meeting the agent in Portland in July, he said he had been thinking of conducting a holy war against infidels since the age of 15, and suggested the plot to bomb Friday's traditional pre-Christmas ceremony in the Oregon capital.
FBI operatives cautioned Mohamud several times about the seriousness of this plan, noting that there would be many children at the event.
But Mohamud responded that he was looking for a “huge mass that will... be attacked in their own element with their families celebrating the holidays,”the documents noted.
Earlier this month, Mohamud and the undercover FBI operatives traveled to a remote location in Lincoln County, Oregon, where they detonated a bomb concealed in a backpack as a rehearsal of the upcoming attack.
“I want whoever is attending that event to leave, to leave either dead or injured,” Mohamud said of the Christmas tree ceremony, according to the court documents.
That same day, he recorded a video, in which he read a written statement that offered a rationale for his bomb attack.
On Friday afternoon, hours before the planned attack, Mohamud met the undercover agents to make the final preparations.
“Mohamud went and looked at the bomb, which was in the back of a large white van. When Mohamud saw the bomb, he told the (undercover agents) it was 'beautiful',” said the affidavit. –AFP