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#12 from 10: Pioneer Courthouse square bomb


In a way, it was the story that didn’t quite become one. Fortunately.

On the evening of November 26, Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a student at Oregon State University journeyed to the Pioneer Courthouse Square in downtown Portland, where the city Christmas tree was about to be lit. A few blocks away, according to FBI reports, he press a button which he believed would case an explosion killing hundreds or thousands of people at the square. The bomb was a fake, Mohamud would up not as a killer but as a pawn in an FBI sting – they had provided the “bomb,” the transport to Portland, and much else.

In a strict sense, it was a story that wasn’t, since no bomb exploded, and in fact none was ever there. But Mohamud’s arrest, and the legal proceedings that will kick in earnestly in 2011, are guaranteed debate fodder. Was the kid (age 19)

racing down a track toward doing major damage? If he had not been spotted by the FBI, would he in fact have killed? Or was he subtly manipulated by the feds, led into the act by the fed’s easy provision of transport, materiel and cooperative (seemingly) partners? Some people have made up their minds already. For us, at year’s end, the answers are not fully in yet. But they are bound to affect the conversation in the year ahead.

More to the point, seems to us, is the law enforcement and security aspect of this. While there was some talk of added policing in Portland’s downtown, no one seems to have panicked. We visited the Square about a week after the arrest, and it was full of people – attending a beer fest. Many people (Oregonians anyway) may have paid attention that this event was quashed not by metal detectors or backscatter machines but by investigation, human resources, data analysis and shoeleather – the same way most of these sort of plots get averted.

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