The LWOT: Oregon teen arrested in intricate sting operation; Wikileaks reveals info on Gitmo and more

Foreign Policy and the New America Foundation bring you a twice weekly brief on the legal war on terror. You can read it on foreignpolicy.com or get it delivered directly to your inbox -- just sign up here.

Craig Mitchelldyer/Getty Images
Craig Mitchelldyer/Getty Images
Craig Mitchelldyer/Getty Images

Oregon teen arrested in elaborate sting operation

After a nearly six-month sting operation, federal and state authorities on Friday arrested 19-year old Oregon resident Mohamed Osman Mohamud, after Mohamud allegedly tried to detonate an inert FBI-supplied bomb with a cell phone during Portland's Christmas Tree lighting ceremony (DOJ, NYT, Washington Post, AJE, WSJ). In an arraignment Nov. 29, Mohamud, who is Somali-American, pleaded not guilty, and a tentative trial date was set for Feb. 1 (AP, BBC).

According to the indictment filed against Mohamud (available here), the suspect came to the attention of the FBI after someone (possibly his father) alerted them to his suspected radicalization (Time). An in-depth investigation began in August 2009, after Mohamud reportedly tried to contact a friend in Pakistan believed to be involved in militant activities; undercover agents made contact with Mohamud in June 2010 before meeting him in July, after Mohamud tried to fly to Alaska for work and allegedly grew frustrated with his failure to travel abroad for jihadist training (NYT).

Oregon teen arrested in elaborate sting operation

After a nearly six-month sting operation, federal and state authorities on Friday arrested 19-year old Oregon resident Mohamed Osman Mohamud, after Mohamud allegedly tried to detonate an inert FBI-supplied bomb with a cell phone during Portland’s Christmas Tree lighting ceremony (DOJ, NYT, Washington Post, AJE, WSJ). In an arraignment Nov. 29, Mohamud, who is Somali-American, pleaded not guilty, and a tentative trial date was set for Feb. 1 (AP, BBC).

According to the indictment filed against Mohamud (available here), the suspect came to the attention of the FBI after someone (possibly his father) alerted them to his suspected radicalization (Time). An in-depth investigation began in August 2009, after Mohamud reportedly tried to contact a friend in Pakistan believed to be involved in militant activities; undercover agents made contact with Mohamud in June 2010 before meeting him in July, after Mohamud tried to fly to Alaska for work and allegedly grew frustrated with his failure to travel abroad for jihadist training (NYT).

From there the "plot" unfolded under the supervision of the FBI, with Mohamud telling agents of his desire since the age of 15 to fight, his contributions to the web magazine "Jihad Recollections" and his wish to become "operational" with an attack on a "huge mass" of civilians. Mohamud allegedly suggested the target, and supplied undercover FBI technicians with "bomb components" used to craft the fake explosive (NYT, Washington Post). Mohamud dropped out of Oregon State University in early October, and Nov. 4 allegedly tested a backpack bomb with undercover agents before making a video explaining his rationale for the upcoming attack. The indictment says that authorities repeatedly gave Mohamud the option of backing out of the plot or choosing non-violent ways to spread Islam, with the suspect adamantly choosing a mass-casualty attack (NYT).

Friends and neighbors expressed surprise at the arrest, with community leaders condemning the planned attack but also raising questions about the FBI’s tactics in the investigation (LAT, CNN, NYT, AP, Newsweek).The New York Times looks at the recent rash of sting operations against alleged terrorist plots, which some have suggested toe the line between investigation and entrapment (NYT). The arrest also prompted fears of radicalization and retribution in Somali and other Muslim communities in Oregon and elsewhere, and a mosque where Mohamud worshipped was targeted by a suspected arsonist this past weekend (Star Tribune, BBC, AP, CNN).

The release felt ’round the world

The government secrets website WikiLeaks on Nov. 28 released its first batch of a suspected cache of 250,000 secret or restricted diplomatic cables from the U.S. State Department (NYT, Der Spiegel, Guardian, Le Monde, El Paìs, AJE, Washington Post NPR, AFP). The documents reveal the depth and intensity of the difficult negotiations with various countries over the resettlement of Guantánamo Bay detainees under both the Bush and Obama administrations, with reports of payment offers to the island nation of Kiribati, demands for money for a possible rehabilitation program deemed insecure in Yemen, and Chinese pressure on other nations not to take in 17 Uighur detainees (NYT, CNN). 

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah reportedly suggested placing microchips in released detainees, and Kuwait’s Interior Minister proposed releasing them in Afghanistan to die in combat (NYT, Telegraph). The documents also show U.S. pressure on Germany not to issue arrest warrants in 2007 for U.S. commandos involved in the improper rendition of German citizen Khalid el-Masri, who was allegedly tortured in Afghanistan and at Guantánamo before being freed in 2004 (Washington Post).

U.S. lawmakers and officials reacted strongly to the documents’ release, with incoming chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee Peter King asking U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to declare WikiLeaks a Foreign Terrorist Organization, though the organization likely does not fit the requisite criteria (CBS, Reuters, The Hill, Lawfare Blog). The U.S. government has opened a criminal investigation into WikiLeaks (Washington Post).

Indefinite detention may eventually be law

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said this weekend that he has the votes to block a civilian trial for 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, though he also advocated using a mix of civilian and military trials for terrorism suspects (The Hill, AP). The statement demonstrated the impact that recent Republican electoral gains and other factors could have on Obama administration efforts to try KSM and other Guantánamo detainees in civilian courts; the administration is reportedly mulling a law that would codify the conditions under which certain terrorism suspects can be indefinitely detained (NPR, Washington Post).

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Nov. 29 that the verdict in the case of 1998 East Africa bomb plotter Ahmed Khalfain Ghailani’s case "has had no impact on our process" in choosing a venue for KSM’s trial (AP). CBS looks at the transcript from Ghailani’s 2007 Combatant Status Review hearing at Gitmo, where he denied knowing in advance about the bombings, as he argued at his trial, but admitted to undergoing military training in Afghanistan, as well as meeting Osama bin Laden and KSM, after fleeing Africa (CBS).

Trials and Tribulations

  • Adam Goldman and Kathy Gannon have a must-read this week on previously unknown near-missed attempts to kill or capture al Qaeda no. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri (AP, AP).
  • A New York man accused of trying to join the Taliban and Iraqi insurgents fighting U.S. forces, Abdel Hameed Shehadeh, may plead guilty to lying to federal authorities investigating his activities (NYDN). And recently-unsealed documents allege that Nima Ali Yusuf, a San Diego resident accused of aiding the Somali al-Shabaab organization, raised $800 for the group and tried to recruit at least one man to fight in Somalia (LAT).
  • ABC News profiles Samir Khan, the young American man allegedly behind Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) English-language "Inspire" magazines (ABC). Craig Whitlock details AQAP’ss expanded recruitment and targeting efforts, and the Post offers page-by-page analysis of the new "Inspire" (Washington Post, Washington Post).
  • A Pakistani journalist and resident of the Waziristan town of Mir Ali has threatened to sue the CIA for the deaths of two relatives in an alleged drone strike if he is not compensated for the deaths within two weeks (Washington Post).
  • Two civil liberties groups have filed a petition in federal court to push an investigation into whether a U.S. Army psychologist, John Leso, should be stripped of his license for his allege role in developing "enhanced" interrogation tactics used at Guantánamo (WSJ).
  • The U.S. State Department last week labeled the Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation an "alias" of the banned terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, placing the former under the same legal restrictions as the latter (State Department). And the European Union last Thursday asked the State Department to remove the People’s Mujahideen of Iran from the banned terrorist list (VOA, WSJ).
  • The Department of Homeland Security is reportedly ready to phase out the much-maligned color-coded terrorism alert warning, which has not changed colors in four years (LAT).
  • Saudi security officials on Friday announced the arrests of 149 alleged militants over the past eight months, saying they had broken up 19 al Qaeda-linked cells raising money for terrorist activities and planning attacks inside the Kingdom (AJE, NYT). 
  • Italian authorities have expelled to Morocco Khalid Khamlich, who authorities allege was part of a cell plotting to attack Milan’s subway and a cathedral, after five and a half years in prison (AP). Italian authorities also extradited to France on Nov. 29 a French citizen arrested in Italy with bomb-making materials, Ryad Hannouni (NYT).
  • India on Nov. 26 commemorated the two-year anniversary of the Mumbai attacks, which targeted some of the cities most recognizable and heavily-frequented landmarks in a days-long orgy of death and violence (Bloomberg).

More from Foreign Policy

A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.
A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.

Lessons for the Next War

Twelve experts weigh in on how to prevent, deter, and—if necessary—fight the next conflict.

An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It’s High Time to Prepare for Russia’s Collapse

Not planning for the possibility of disintegration betrays a dangerous lack of imagination.

An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.
An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.

Turkey Is Sending Cold War-Era Cluster Bombs to Ukraine

The artillery-fired cluster munitions could be lethal to Russian troops—and Ukrainian civilians.

A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol  January 8, 2009 in Washington.
A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol January 8, 2009 in Washington.

Congrats, You’re a Member of Congress. Now Listen Up.

Some brief foreign-policy advice for the newest members of the U.S. legislature.