This editorial appeared in Tuesday’s print edition.
Look carefully at the booking photo of 19-year-old Mohamed Osman Mohamud. It’s the face of what many counterterrorism experts consider to be the greatest potential threat to Americans’ safety: the homegrown radical.
Mohamud, a naturalized American citizen whose family came to the United States from Somalia when he was 5, has been indicted on federal charges in connection with an alleged plot to detonate a car bomb in downtown Portland on Friday during that city’s Christmas tree-lighting celebration.
His goal, according to authorities: Kill as many people as possible – including children. Security was of little concern to him. He reportedly said, “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.”
Thanks to a concerned tipster and diligent law enforcement efforts, the plot was derailed and controlled by FBI agents. After learning that Mohamud was trying to make contact with an al-Qaida recruiter in Pakistan and wanted to conduct a terrorist attack on U.S. soil, the FBI conducted a months-long undercover sting operation that culminated Friday with Mohamud’s arrest.
Sadly, someone appears to have decided that the Muslim community should pay for Mohamud’s alleged terrorist plot. Authorities belief arson is likely to blame for a fire Sunday that badly damaged the office in the Corvallis Islamic center that Mohamud occasionally attended. Muslims in the area reportedly are fearful that they will suffer retaliation.
That would be unfortunate. Just as the Irish American community wasn’t responsible for Timothy McVeigh’s bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, it’s wrong to blame Muslim Americans for the misguided actions of one young man.
Torching an Islamic house of worship and attacking individual Muslims are also acts of terrorism. And such actions would play into the hands of radical Islamists abroad who hope to draw more young Americans under their sway by feeding on their anger.
With heightened security and U.S. military action making it hard for al-Qaida members abroad to stage attacks, they’ve focused their efforts on recruiting homegrown terrorists. One way is through slick online magazines like Inspire, believed to be edited by radical Pakistani-American Samir Khan. Mohamud not only was familiar with Inspire, he also submitted articles for publication to it and to another radical Webzine, Jihad Recollections.
The lesson of the thwarted Portland attack – and of others that the FBI has disrupted – is that al-Qaida’s recruiting efforts may be paying off. They sucked in a young Oregon man, and there likely are others out there who also have been dreaming of jihad. Muslim Americans have a crucial role to play in being vigilant to that threat.