Two Different Views Of Alleged Would-Be Bomber

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Two very different images are emerging of the 19-year-old who allegedly plotted to bomb Portland's Christmas tree lighting. The first is of a student who liked basketball and engineering. The second is of a young man — angry at his parents — bent on killing fellow Americans.

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Two different images are emerging of one young man. We're talking about the 19-year-old who allegedly plotted to bomb a Christmas tree lighting in Portland last week. The first image is of a student who liked basketball and engineering. The second, a young man who was angry at his parents and bent on killing fellow Americans.

Kristian Foden-Vencil of Oregon Public Broadcasting reports.

KRISTIAN FODEN-VENCIL: The Caffe D'Arte in northeast Portland is a hangout for Somali-Americans. They come to drink coffee here and talk about jobs, kids and the happenings of the day. Not surprisingly the subject of the week is bombing suspect Mohamed Osman Mohamud.

Mr. MOHAMED MOHAMED: He was a good kid. There was nothing out there that can make me say that he was headed in that direction personally.

FODEN-VENCIL: Thirty-two-year-old Mohamed Mohamed(ph) is not related to the suspect, but knows his father and saw the teenager at the mosque and playing basketball with his nephews.

Mr. MOHAMED: At first it was a really scary feeling knowing that something like that could happen in Portland. But at the same time, I had to wait and see the whole story.

FODEN-VENCIL: Talk here about that whole story includes a long-term rift between Mohamud and his family and of how his mother may have been in the crowd that night.

Prosecutors formally charged Mohamud Monday with the attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. His attorney says Mohamud may well have been entrapped by sophisticated government agents. Family friend Saba Ahmed(ph) brought up the same issue on the courthouse steps after his arraignment.

Ms. SABA AHMED: Everyone's innocent until proven guilty. The guy has been framed really badly and I'm really shocked. And this is very irresponsible behavior because now the Muslim community is the one who is suffering the consequences of the actions.

FODEN-VENCIL: What we know for sure is that Mohamud's family fled Somalia in the early 1990s to get away from a violent civil war. His father is an engineer for the computer company Intel. After high school, Mohamud took classes at Oregon State University. But university spokesman Todd Simmons distanced the school, saying Mohamud wasn't in an accredited degree program and hadn't attended classes for a month and a half.

Mr. TODD SIMMONS (Spokesman, Oregon State University): For someone of his age who's a formally admitted student to the university, then they often live in student housing. He, of course, didn't live in student housing here. They typically are, you know, might be involved in on-campus activities and I just don't know the extent of anything like that that he was involved in here.

FODEN-VENCIL: More details of Mohamud's background came from Benton County's chief deputy district attorney Christian Stringer. He released details of an allegation last year of improper sexual conduct with a fellow student. No charges were ever filed. Stringer says Mohamud admits to being drunk and having sex. And he says there was never any mention of strong religious beliefs.

Mr. CHRISTIAN STRINGER (Chief Deputy District Attorney, Benton County): When the investigation of what's going on, Mr. Mohamud was cooperative with the detectives from a state police. He gave them a statement. He allowed them to submit him to a polygraph.

FODEN-VENCIL: Stringer's investigation found insufficient evidence for prosecution in that case. But with allegations of the attempted bombing, he thought it best to release the details. Oregon's small Muslim population has been severely shaken by recent events.

A spokesman for the Islamic Center of Portland says there are fears of retaliation and those fears may well be founded. The FBI thinks an apparent arson attack on a local mosque Sunday may be linked.

Mohamed Osman Mohamud's trial is scheduled to start in February.

For NPR News, I'm Christian Foden-Vencil in Portland.

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