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A nineteen-year old Somali Muslim named Mohamed Osman Mohamud was arrested Friday in Portland, Oregon, just as he was trying to blow up a van loaded with explosives at a Christmas tree lighting ceremony. The explosives were fakes that agents who were tracking Mohamud’s activities supplied to him; as they moved in to arrest him, he kicked at them and shouted, “Allahu akbar!”
Although the explosives were fake, “the threat was very real,” according to Arthur Balizan, special agent in charge of the FBI in Oregon. “Our investigation,” said Balizan, “shows that Mohamud was absolutely committed to carrying out an attack on a very grand scale.” Mohamud himself had told undercover agents: “I want whoever is attending that event to leave, to leave either dead or injured.” Yet as more details have come out about Mohamud’s jihad plot, the response from government and law enforcement officials, the Muslim community in Portland, and the mainstream media has been drearily familiar.
I. Mohamud’s Islamic motivations
Mohamed Osman Mohamud’s own statements make it unmistakably clear that he was hoping to commit mass-murder in the name of Islam, in what he saw as an Islamic jihad attack. For a video he made explaining his motives, he dressed in a white robe with a red and white headdress, telling undercover agents whom he thought were his accomplices that he wanted to dress “Sheikh Osama style.” He began the video by repeating traditional Islamic prayers and invocations: “I take refuge in Allah from Satan the accursed; in the name of Allah, the merciful, the compassionate; all praise be to Allah, we praise him, we seek his assistance and forgiveness.”
He then warned Americans that “a dark day is coming your way,” for “as long as you threaten our security, your people will not remain safe.” He asked: “Did you think that you could invade a Muslim land, and we would not invade you,” and boasted that “Allah will have soldiers scattered everywhere across the world.” He challenged Muslims living in the United States: “What has stopped you from fighting in the cause of Allah?” And he predicted that “you will see the victory of Islam.”
All this is perfectly consistent with the Islamic doctrine that jihad warfare becomes obligatory (fard ayn) upon every Muslim if a Muslim land is attacked by infidels.
As long as four years ago, when he was only fifteen, Mohamud had already attracted the attention of law enforcement agents, and he told undercover agents at that time that he was praying about “whether I should…go, you know, and make a jihad in a different country or to make like an operation here.” He wrote for an online magazine called “Jihad Recollections” about how jihad warriors must “train as hard as possible in order to damage the enemies of Allah as much as possible.” They should, however, not go to gyms and train with weights, he wrote, because gyms were decidedly un-Islamic places, with their “music, semi-naked women [and] free mixing.”
II. The local mosque: Mohamed who?
Yet despite Mohamud’s avowedly Islamic motivations, the Imam Yosof Wanly of the Salman Al-Farisi Islamic Center in Corvallis, Oregon, followed a predictable and oft-repeated pattern when he downplayed Mohamud’s connection to the local Muslim community. Every jihadist who has ever lived for any time in the United States has been simultaneously a devout and informed Muslim by his own account, and by the account of the local mosque leaders, someone they seldom saw and who was at odds with the larger community when he did show up. It raises a large question that no journalist ever has the wit or courage to ask: if these jihad terrorists really had little or nothing to do with their local mosques, and if their understanding of Islam differs so sharply from that of the area Muslims, where did they learn the version of Islam that impelled them to attempt mass-murder of infidels?
In the course of various media interviews, however, Wanly did end up revealing that he had more of a relationship with Mohamud than he would be likely to have with a peripheral member of his congregation whom he seldom saw. He said that he and Mohamud had “average teacher-student” discussions, and characterized Mohamud, a dropout from Oregon State University, as, according to the Associated Press, “a normal student who went to athletic events, drank the occasional beer and was into rap music and culture.” Even though this statement seems calculated to give the picture of anything but a devout, observant, serious Muslim, it also shows that Wanly knew Mohamud better than one might expect a busy imam in a major city to know a sometime college student who attended his mosque only occasionally.
III. Unsupported assertion that Islam forbids such attacks
Wanly said of Mohamud: “He seemed like he wants to do something to change something. That’s what he thinks in his own mind and he took that initiative.” But he declared: “In my humble opinion, there wasn’t anything that would prompt me to think he would plan this. It’s completely, clearly, textually denounced in the Islamic religion.” He offered no texts from the Qur’an or Hadith to back up that assertion, and continued: “He took that initiative without seeking any advice from anybody and he went overboard.”
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