Christmas Tree Bombing Suspect Pleads Not Guilty

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The Somali American suspected of plotting to bomb an Oregon Christmas tree lighting ceremony during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend pleaded not guilty, Monday.

Mohamed Osman Mohamud has been charged with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction.  Offcials say he planned to blow up a van full of explosives during Portland's annual tree lighting ceremony on Nov. 26. 

The 19-year-old was accompanied by an undercover FBI agent he thought was a co-conspirator. When Mohamud dialed a phone number to detonate the bomb, federal agents arrested him.

"This defendant, from the very beginning, showed a very serious determination to commit violent jihad," said Dwight Holton, U.S. attorney for Oregon.

When Mohamud was told the bomb would likely leave behind a bloody mess, FBI agents allegedly recorded him saying, "I want whoever is attending that event to leave, to leave either dead or injured."

Portland residents attending the ceremony were never in danger, but U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the ordeal could have ended tragically if it weren't for the FBI investigation.

"We were able to thwart somebody who clearly had the intention by his own words and his own actions to harm a great many people," Holder said. "To do real serious damage to property, to put at risk the lives of American citizens -- including children."

Meanwhile, the Islamic mosque where Mohamud occasionally worshipped was burned in an apparent arson fire set on Nov. 28.

Authorities believe the incident may have been an act of retaliation and have increased security at Islamic sites throughout Portland.

"I've prayed for my family and friends, because obviously if someone was deliberate enough to do this, what's to stop them from coming to our homes and our schools?" said Mohamed Alyagouri, who worships at the center. "I'm afraid for my children getting harassed from their teachers, maybe from their friends."

"It saddens me that people react to hate with more hate, and I think it's hypocritical," one resident added.

Somali leaders in Oregon have asked for help in reaching out to at-risk Somali youth like Mohamud.

Officials said Mohamud had no formal ties to foreign terror groups, although he had tried to contact suspected terrorists in Pakistan.

If convicted, he faces life in prison.

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