He repeatedly insisted he wanted to kill Americans. Bloody carnage was his explicit goal, and a crowd of 12,000 Oregonians in downtown Portland provided the human targets.
His targets -- men, women and children -- gathered in the city's Pioneer Courthouse Square last Friday to light a public Christmas tree. Attacking this infidel ceremony, with its hint of pagan tree worship, would give his murderous act iconic stature. Militant Islamists around the globe would appreciate the religious symbolism.
He positioned the bomb for maximum casualties, slipped away, then called a cell phone rigged as a detonator.
He waited. No blast. No dead Americans. Moments later, 19-year-old Mohamed Osman Mohamud, nominally of Corvallis, Ore., was arrested by the FBI. The bomb was a fake, supplied by FBI agents who had been tracking the Wannabe Terrorist for months.
Of course, Mohamud's attorney now suggests he was "entrapped" by diabolically clever G-men. However, based on the FBI affidavit filed in federal court, entrapment will be tough to prove. Mohamud bragged to agents that he had been "thinking of committing some form of violent jihad since the age of 15." Like an experienced al-Qaida plotter, he saw his mass murder as global information warfare. The Portland bloodbath was "gonna be a fireworks show," and The "New York Times will give it two thumbs up."
Portland, with its oh-so-left-wing politics, and the Willamette Valley, with it wonderful wineries, do not look like battlefields, but for al-Qaida terrorists they definitely are. Unfortunately, they will continue to be for four or five decades, as the global struggle between militant Islamists and practically everyone else on the planet continues.
I realize Global War on Terror (GWOT) is no longer the official name of this multi-dimensional struggle. One of the first things President Barack Obama did after he became president was dispense with the name GWOT, in favor of his preferred name, OCO -- overseas contingency operation. Since Obama declared OCO, the Christmas Terrorist tried to bring down a jetliner over Detroit, Maj. Nidal Hasan murdered fellow soldiers at Ft. Hood and a would-be terrorist tried to bomb New York's Times Square. Like Portland, none of these places is overseas.
America's terrorist enemies, despite our preferences and druthers, target American soil just as they target Americans wherever they may live or travel on the planet. These killers attempt to wage war Over There and Back Here and in between, and there is nothing contingent about it. The fight is global -- and local.
Which is why this particular FBI operation is not simply an example of outstanding police work, but an example of the FBI at war. In identifying and tracking the Wannabe Terrorist, the FBI ran a classic counter-intelligence and counter-terror operation.
Moreover, on the Willamette Valley battlefield, the FBI has won a psychological victory that will help blunt al-Qaida's attempts to encourage "self-organizing" terrorists.
Understand that al-Qaida is first and foremost a propaganda power. Its dark genius has been to connect the Muslim world's angry young men (including those living in Corvallis) with a utopian fantasy preaching the virtue of violence.
Al-Qaida wants the world to believe its psychological and ideological appeals are unstoppable. There will be a thousand self-organizing Hasans, there will be 10,000 Mahmouds, so go ahead and give up now, America.
But in the real world, putting together an attack leaves a trail. Personal behavior is also a marker. The Foundation for Defense of Democracy's "Homegrown Terrorists in the U.S. and U.K." examines the behavioral changes that occur during the radicalization process. Yes, this is profiling, based on experience with young men who decided to kill fellow citizens en masse.
In its Willamette Valley campaign, the FBI demonstrated it can detect the behavior, track it and co-opt it. Now domestic would-be terrorists cannot be certain that their angry compatriot isn't an agent running a sting operation. Doubt replaces theological certitude.
Let's hope the trial court produces a legal victory that reinforces the FBI's success. But the bureau's psychological victory stands.