CORVALLIS, Ore. -- Those who know 19-year-old Mohamed Osman Mohamud say the Somali-born man seemed to be a normal American trying to make a change in the world around him.
"He seemed like he wants to do something to change something," said Yosof Wanly, an imam at the Al-Farisi Islamic Center. "That's what he thinks in his own mind and he took that initiative."
Wanly said Mohamud had a difficult childhood, moving from Somalia at a young age with his father before relocating to Beaverton.
If Mohamud wanted to change something, at the very least the naturalized U.S. citizen has created a major stir among law enforcement and millions of Oregonians.
According to members of the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice, federal agents arrested the teenager just as he tried blowing up a van he believed was loaded with explosives at the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland Friday night.
According to a U.S. District Court warrant and a sworn affidavit, Mohamud was arrested at 5:40 p.m. just after he dialed a cell phone that he thought would blow up the van.
What he didn't know is that undercover agents, who had been following him for months, had exchanged the explosives with dummies.
The foiled alleged bomb plot had Corvallis residents and Oregon State University students buzzing Saturday.
Mohamud was a non-degree seeking student in pre-engineering, according to OSP Spokesman Todd Simmons.
Simmons said Mohamud attended classes at OSU in the fall quarter of 2009 and again in the fall quarter of 2010. Mohamud dropped classes on Oct. 6, 2010 which Simmons said is consistent with the university add/drop period.
"It's just weird because this is not what you would think would happen here in Corvallis," said OSU sophomore Garrett Denmark. "I'm just glad [the FBI] luckily was able to get onto him before anything big actually happened."
In the affidavit FBI agents detail emails they exchanged with Mohamud under the guises of willing accomplices.
In those emails Mohamud said he had been devoted to carrying out violent jihad since the age of 15. According to the affidavit, Mohamud also wrote that he chose Oregon because "it's Oregon and Oregon, like you know, nobody ever thinks about it."
When asked by the undercover agents why he wanted to attack the Portland Christmas tree lighting, he said he chose it because he was looking "for a huge mass that will...be attacked in their own element with their families celebrating the holidays." He also explained that he wanted "whoever is attending that event ... to leave either dead or injured."
But those words of violence never came up between Mohamud and his imam Yosof Wanly. Wanly said he had "average teacher-student" conversations with Mohamud and that he never thought an attack like this would even cross Mohamud's mind.
"In my humble opinion, there were wasn't anything that would prompt me to think he would plan this. It's completely, clearly, textually denounced in the Islamic religion," said Wanly. "He took that initiative without seeking any advice from anybody and he went overboard."
Wanly said Mohamud had visited the Islamic center on an inconsistent basis for the last year and a half.
OSU Spokesman Todd Simmons said the school administration is very surprised about the unfolding case, but that the OSU community, Corvallis residents, and the Portland population can rest easy in the confidence of how law enforcement handled this case.
"What we see in this investigation is that it went on for a longer period of time and there was heavy involvement throughout," said Simmons. "So rather than being frightened, people should have confidence that law enforcement is asking the right questions and pursuing the right leads."