Among the big questions surrounding the FBI's Pioneer Square bombing sting is how Mohamed Osman Mohamud even got on their radar in the first place. They may have gotten a nudge, some are reporting.
The undercover operation took off after Mohamud wasn't allowed to board a plane to Alaska in June—prompting an interview with agents in which Mohamud revealed interesting details, including his plans to travel to Yemen and that he was corresponding (in e-mails, also produced by the FBI) with someone he believed to be a jihadi.
But why was Mohamud held off a flight? And why was the FBI ready to talk to him so soon? Was it the articles he'd written for jihadi publications, as Sarah noted in her post on the affidavit? Or something else? Sarah also posted this telling excerpt from the affidavit:
Now, according to the Associated Press, an unidentified law enforcement official said "agents began investigating Mohamud after receiving a tip from someone who was concerned about the teenager."
The source wouldn't say any more about the tipster or the tipster's relationship with Mohamud. But that was enough for the the FBI to start monitoring Mohamud's e-mail which turned up the messages he was sending about how to travel to Pakistan. Also revealed, according to the AP: Mohamud's initial contact in Pakistan was a friend who had been a student in Oregon in 2007-2008.
Sarah also raised questions about entrapment. And there questions about whether these kinds of stings actually make us safer. Here's one article, in Newsweek, that takes on both.
In the lead-up to the event the undercover operatives kept asking Mohamud if it bothered him that he’d be killing a whole lot of little kids and they kept telling him it would be okay to back away from the plot. According to the FBI affidavit filed with the court, Mohamud said he just wanted a “huge mass that will...be attacked in their own element with their families celebrating the holidays.” The Feds didn’t make the arrest until the bomb was in place (a dud they’d built themselves), and Mohamud had actually made the call on his cell phone that he apparently believed would set it off.
Also of note, Mohamud actually mailed legitimate bomb components and attack plans to his apparent mentors, even though phony components were actually used to make a fake bomb.
As for safety? Given that Mohamud needed a lot of federal help to move along as far as he did? (The quote below is from Newsweek, but the O's Steve Duin also asks about all that federal operational intervention here.)
When it comes to “home-grown terror” plots and FBI stings, there is a great divide between those would-be jihadis who think they can do everything they want to do with a few local buddies and those who make contact with the pros in Pakistan, Yemen or elsewhere overseas. The second category is much more dangerous. Mohamud was somewhere in between. ...
What sting operations like this do, at a minimum, is send a psychological message to would-be jihadis that anyone they contact to join holy war abroad, and anyone they work with to bring terror back to America, may be a double agent, and that communications are so heavily monitored that any e-mail they send looking for jihadi advice is likely to attract the attention of the Feds.
Get the best of the Mercury each week in your inbox!