Somali-American man convicted in 2010 Portland, Ore., Christmas bomb plot apologizes

PORTLAND, Ore. — A young Somali-American man convicted of plotting to bomb a 2010 Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in Portland’s town square has written an apology letter in advance of his sentencing and says he renounces his former beliefs.

In the letter filed Friday by his lawyers in federal court, Mohamed Mohamud offers to speak to young Muslims “to help keep them away from the path of extremism” and tells U.S. District Judge Garr King he turned to books to help himself “walk a better path.” His reading list ranges from “The Grapes of Wrath” to President Barack Obama’s “The Audacity of Hope” to “A Zombie Apocalypse.”

Mohamud was arrested Nov. 26, 2010, after pressing a button on a cellphone that he believed would detonate a 1,800-pound diesel-and-fertilizer bomb near thousands of people at the annual holiday gathering.

The bomb was a fake supplied by undercover FBI agents posing as al-Qaida recruiters.

Ore. Muslim sues FBI, claims torture

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — An American Muslim who says he was beaten with batons by prison interrogators while held in solitary confinement overseas for more than three months has sued the FBI and State Department, claiming the torture was done at their behest.

The lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Oregon seeks $30 million and several injunctions against the U.S. government concerning its treatment of citizens overseas.

Yonas Fikre said he was held for 106 days in the United Arab Emirates after refusing to cooperate with Portland, Ore.,-based FBI agents in an interview in Sudan. The State Department has confirmed previously that Fikre was held in Abu Dhabi ‘‘on unspecified charges,’’ but said he was visited by State Department officials and showed no signs of mistreatment.

Two other Oregon Muslims who worship at the mosque have also alleged they were held overseas and were asked to become informants by Portland-based FBI agents. Both men have returned to Oregon.

The mosque has come under scrutiny before. Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a Somali American convicted of plotting to set off a bomb in downtown Portland in 2010, occasionally worshipped there. A decade ago, seven Muslims with ties to the mosque were arrested following a failed effort to enter Afghanistan and fight U.S. forces.

 

Trial set to begin for 21-year-old suspect in Portland Christmas tree-lighting bomb plot

PORTLAND, Ore. — For more than two years, the only image the public has had of the man accused of plotting to detonate an 1,800-pound bomb at a Portland Christmas tree-lighting ceremony is this: A sullen-faced, sunken-eyed terrorism suspect in a mug shot taken just hours after his arrest.

At the trial that begins Thursday, Mohamed Mohamud’s attorneys will attempt to present a different image, one of an impressionable teenager lured by undercover agents with the FBI, which snared one of its youngest terrorism suspects with his arrest in November 2010.

At issue is whether Mohamud was entrapped, as his defense claims, when he gave the go-ahead for the detonation of what he thought was a bomb at the Christmas tree-lighting ceremony. The bomb was a fake, provided by FBI agents whom the 19-year-old thought were his jihadist co-conspirators.

As a senior in high school, Mohamud had begun writing articles for an online English-language jihadist magazine called “Jihad Recollections” under the pen name Ibn al-Mubarak, advocating physical fitness for the mujahedeen in places where they couldn’t find exercise equipment.

Journalist Trevor Aaronson found a common thread in such sting cases, documented in a forthcoming book, “The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism,” which spends a chapter on elements of the Mohamud case.

“(The stings) all have minor variations, but they’re all pretty much the same in that they involve people who don’t have the capacity to commit the crimes” for which they’re prosecuted, Aaronson said.

Aaronson said Mohamud didn’t have access to bomb-making materials and, while he espoused anti-Western views, showed no capacity for carrying out acts of terror.

“If you’re going to prosecute every loudmouth,” Aaronson said, “our courts would be clogged.”

 

Oregon mosque under FBI scrutiny says it’s being pushed to adopt Americanized Islam

PORTLAND, Ore. — On a bright April afternoon, hundreds of worshippers spilled into a Portland parking lot, exchanging hugs and handshakes after the weekly sermon. Children scampered around the property, bordered by a white picket fence. The man who has guided the congregation for more than a decade greeted the faithful.

The scene could be from any Sunday in America. Except this one unfolds on a Friday, among a crowd of U.S. and foreign-born Muslims and local converts. The women, in full-length dresses and headscarves, emerge from a side door while the men, in robes or casual wear, exit through the front.

There’s one more distinction: At Masjed As-Saber, Oregon’s largest mosque, the people sense that God isn’t the only one scrutinizing their spirituality.

In the past two years, the FBI has placed at least five men with affiliations to the mosque, including its longtime religious leader, on the nation’s no-fly list, a roster of suspected terrorists barred from flying in the United States. None has been charged with a terrorism-related offense, and federal officials haven’t told them why they’re on the list.

The unexplained actions are aggravating the FBI’s already poor relationship with the mosque and fueling fear and frustration among Muslims that their house of worship appears to be once again in the government’s cross hairs.

American Muslim blames the FBI, saying he was tortured at their behest in United Arab Emirates

PORTLAND, Ore. — His interrogators usually came in the morning. Peeking under a blindfold in a cold concrete cell, Yonas Fikre says he caught only glimpses of their shoes.

They beat the soles of his feet with hoses and sticks, asking him about his Portland, Ore., mosque and its imam. Each day, the men questioning him in a United Arab Emirates prison told the 33-year-old Fikre he would be released “tomorrow,” according to an account he gave on Wednesday at a press conference in Sweden, where he has been since September.

“It was very hard, because you don’t know why you are in there and the only person you speak to is either yourself, or the wall, or when you go to the restroom or when you go to the torture place,” said Fikre, who was held for 106 days. “I have never been that isolated from human beings in my entire life.”

An advocacy group alleges that over the past two years the FBI has been using aggressive tactics against Muslim-Americans travelling abroad to try to pressure them to become informants when they got home. Gadeir Abbas, staff attorney for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, says there have been several instances of FBI agents calling travelers into embassies or consulates for questioning.

2 Libyan-Americans from Oregon now being allowed to return to US after unexplained delays

PORTLAND, Ore. — Two Libyan-Americans from the Portland, Ore., area who were denied re-entry to the United States from Libya have been granted permission to return home, although one man’s return has been delayed.

The two men — Jamal Tarhuni, 55, and Mustafa Elogbi, 60 — traveled separately to Libya last year after the revolution that ousted Moammar Gadhafi.

The pair has now received assurances from the State Department that they can travel home, said Gadeir Abbas, a lawyer for the Washington-based Council on American Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights group that has advocated for both men. Tarhuni has already departed Libya and is expected to arrive in Oregon Tuesday.

Elogbi was told he can leave but was ordered to delay his departure for unexplained reasons. He now plans to depart on Sunday.
Last month, both were barred from boarding return flights to the U.S. The two said they were being subjected to an overzealous and groundless investigation by the FBI.

Terrorism case comes together against Muslim-American ‘wannabomber’

PORTLAND, Ore. — A year ago, a tall, skinny teen named Mohamed Mohamud stepped out of an SUV just north of Portland’s Union Station. There, according to the FBI, the Somali-born American punched 10 digits into a cell phone believing it would ignite a vanload of explosives 16 blocks away—where a Christmas tree lighting ceremony was due to take place.

The 19-year-old became one of America’s accused “wannabombers.” The bomb he allegedly tried to ignite was a harmless fake rigged by the FBI and presented to him by undercover operatives posing as Islamic terrorists. Their suspect, charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, was part of a series of FBI terrorism stings since 9/11.

Government officials have praised the stings as a means of preventing terrorists from harming people on U.S. soil. In some cases, the FBI has supplied suspects with money, transportation and realistic weapons — including surface-to-air missiles.

Defense lawyers, including Mohamud’s, argue that the operations amount to illegal entrapment. Mohamud became the 14th and youngest suspect to mount an entrapment defense in one of the FBI’s stings. The 13 men who previously argued entrapment have been tried, found guilty and sent to prison for terms ranging from six years to life.

Mohamud’s trial is set for May 15.

Oregon Muslim event in Portland celebrating death of Osama bin Laden canceled over comments

PORTLAND, Ore. — The spokeswoman for an Oregon Islamic association cancelled a planned commemoration of the death of Osama bin Laden after reading comments on a website and the Facebook page of a political group.