CORVALLIS, Ore. -- To his friends and colleagues, Mohamed Osman Mohamud wasn’t a religious extremist, he was simply “Mo-mo.”
“He was an average American student,” said Corvallis Imam Yosof Wanly.
Wanly said Mohamud was a student, a Muslim and a man wanting to make a change in the world.
“He seemed like he wanted to do something to change something,” said Wanly. “His father brought him here so he could make something of himself.”
FBI officials said authorities arrested Mohamud in a sting operation just as he tried blowing up a van he believed was loaded with explosives at a crowded Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland.
Wanly said Mohamud had a difficult childhood and that he moved from Mogadishu, Somalia, with his father at the age of five. Mohamud would later move to Corvallis to take courses at Oregon State University while living off campus in an apartment.
“What we do know about him is that he was a student in winter 2009 and fall 2010,” said OSU Spokesperson Todd Simmons. “He was a non-degree seeking student and stopped taking classes on Oct. 6.”
Friends and acquaintances said Mohamud is smart and studious. While he was at OSU, he could frequently be found in university libraries.
Omar Mohamed with the Muslim Student Association said he knew Mohamud as an acquaintance through the student association. He said Mohamud attended a couple of association events but that he didn’t always lead a life consistent with Islam.
“He hung out with people who partied and drank alcohol,” said Mohamed. “He didn’t commonly go to the mosque. He wasn’t an obedient Muslim.”
Still, many said the 19-year old pre-engineering student never let on that he wanted to carry out "violent jihad," as he is reported in a federal affidavit to have said.
“I would have never have thought anything like this would even come across his mind,” Wanly said.
Mohamud was arrested on charges of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. On Monday, Mohamud entered a plea of not guilty.
A Multnomah County judge set a tentative trial date of Feb. 1, 2011.