Terrorism expert: Radicalization can begin on Internet

Terrorism expert: Radicalization can begin on Internet »Play Video
Counterterrorism expert Daveed Gartenstein-Ross.

PORTLAND, Ore. - While it’s not clear why the man accused of plotting to bomb Pioneer Courthouse Square may have turned to terrorism, research shows that for many it usually begins on the Internet, according to an expert on terrorism.

Former Oregonian Daveed Gartenstein-Ross has studied terrorism around the world and has been looking into the plot since 19-year-old Mohamed Osman Mohamud’s arrest last Friday.

Gartenstein-Ross is cautious not to indict Mohamud and certainly not the Islamic religion, but like many, the question on the counterterrorism expert’s mind is what caused Mohamud to allegedly form a plot to kill thousands at a Christmas celebration?

“Most observers think that he was probably motivated more by political grievance rather than religion. I would say that certainly the early data points make it seem that way but we still don’t know enough,” he said.

By why Mohamud, who is a Somali raised in Portland since he was 5 years old and, who friends say, was taught a peaceful form of Islam at a Southwest Portland mosque?

Gartenstein-Ross said it’s too soon to paint a full picture of what happened, but he said it may have started on the Internet and not at a mosque. Mohamud may have been a teenager curiously surfing the Web and possibly angry about a war in his homeland of Somalia.

“If you look back four years to when he was 15 that was when Ethiopia invaded Somalia with the U.S.’s support,” Gartenstein-Ross said. “So one thing I am personally curious about is whether the war in Somalia served as a trigger.”

He said he worries there could be more attacks like the arson fire at a Corvallis mosque Mohamud attended.

Mohamud’s attorneys and even a local civil rights activist, Skipper Osborne, argue Mohamud was coaxed into the terror plot by federal agents.

“How did they get him to do what he is doing?” he said. “I feel it is a set up.”

Gartenstein-Ross said it’s a common defense argument in these terrorism cases which rarely works.

“You are going to take pains to make sure you don’t entrap the individual because you know in any sting operation that’s what the defense is going to say,” he said.

The affidavit filed by prosecutors in Mohamud’s case says federal agents gave him several options to get out of the terror plot but that he insisted on carrying out the terror attack.