Details emerge on thwarted Oregon bomb plot

DETAILS EMERGE ON THWARTED OREGON BOMB PLOT…. Following up on yesterday’s item, additional details are coming to light about Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a 19-year-old naturalized American citizen, who intended to detonate a car bomb at a packed Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in Portland, Oregon.

From the outset, Mohamud, a Somali-born immigrant, was never close to actually obtaining dangerous materials, dealing with undercover law enforcement officials over the course of nearly six months. But there’s little doubt that the would-be terrorist was, as one official put it, “absolutely committed to carrying out an attack on a very grand scale.”

We’re also learning how the accused came to the attention of the FBI in the first place.

The F.B.I.’s surveillance started in August 2009 after agents intercepted his e-mails with a man he had met in Oregon who had returned to the Middle East, according to a law enforcement official who described the man as a recruiter for terrorism. According to the affidavit, the man had moved to Yemen and then northwest Pakistan, a center of terrorism activity.

Mr. Mohamud was then placed on a watch list and stopped at the Portland airport in June 2010 when he tried to fly to Alaska for a summer job.

Later in June, aware of Mr. Mohamud’s frustrated attempts to receive training as a jihadist overseas, an undercover agent first made contact with him, posing as an associate of the man in Pakistan. On the morning of July 30, the F.B.I. first met with Mr. Mohamud in person to initiate the sting operation.

The planning for the attack evolved from there, with Mr. Mohamud taking an aggressive role, insisting that he wanted to cause many deaths and selecting the Christmas target, according to federal agents. Reminded that many children and families would be at the ceremony, Mr. Mohamud said that he was looking for “a huge mass” of victims, according to the F.B.I.

The identity of the man Mohamud exchanged emails with is not yet clear.

Aware of entrapment legal defenses, undercover agents offered Mohamud multiple alternatives to mass murder, including mere prayer. But he insisted he wanted to play an “operational” role, and even picked his target. Told he’d likely kill a lot of children, Mohamud said, “Yeah, I mean that’s what I’m looking for.” Pushed him further on whether he’s prepared to commit such an act, Mohamud told agents, “I want whoever is attending that event to leave, to leave either dead or injured.”

That the law enforcement process appears to have worked flawlessly to stop this monster is very good news.

With that in mind, there appear to be some on the right who consider this story evidence of America getting “lucky” on counter-terrorism. I don’t think good fortune had anything to do with it — law enforcement identified, approached, apprehended, and charged a young man prepared to commit mass murder. If Mohamud had nearly detonated an actual car bomb, but screwed it up in some way, that might constitute “luck.” But that’s not what happened.

I realize there’s a temptation on the right to discount the notion of Obama administration counter-terrorism successes, but when officials get it right, that’s cause for congratulatory praise.