Saturday, November 27, 2010
Attempted Domestic Terror Plot Thwarted in Portland
Last night, Portland held their annual downtown lighting of the Christmas tree at Pioneer Courthouse Square. As usual, I considered going, but didn't bother to cram in with the crowds for no particular reason. The tree will remain lit up for the next month, and I'll have plenty of opportunity to see it, like I did in the above photo from 2007. There's no need to jam into the square with thousands of fellow Portlanders to see it turn on.
As most of you have probably heard, the tight crowd also brought an attempted domestic terror attack, as a Corvallis man drove a van bomb to the area and attempted to kill some of the festival-goers. Luckily, the FBI had foiled his plan and the bomb he tried to ignite was a dud.
I'm glad that nothing came of this, as from what I've read it could have killed some of the people in the area, and certainly would have injured many and traumatized my fair city. My brother and I passed through the area on a MAX train last night as the festivities were underway, and the crowd was packed shoulder-to-shoulder, filling a block and a half. I haven't seen any official estimates, but similar crowds are usually estimated at 10,000 or so.
From the details in the story, it doesn't sound like it would have been a particularly effective bombing anyway. Pioneer Square is somewhat isolated from traffic, with MAX lines running along each side, with limited parking mostly on the opposite side of the street. The one street with square-adjacent parking was closed off, so that means the van had to have been parked across the street from the square, with a lane of traffic and the MAX line between the square and the bomb, and the majority of the crowd further protected by a thick brick wall separating the sidewalk from the square. These details a downtown Portlander would know, but a Corvallis resident probably wouldn't.
Either way, thank goodness nothing happened and everything went well at the square. Congratulations to the FBI for catching this guy and likely saving lives, it's good to see law enforcement keeping people safe.
The details are still unclear at the time, but the story indicates that emails from the suspect to a contact in Pakistan were what tipped the FBI off in the first place. When the Corvallis man was unable to get assistance from the foreign contact, the FBI stepped in and an undercover agent worked to help the bomber prepare for his attack. While there may be some question as to whether the bomber could have gotten as far as he did without the FBI informant "assisting," the quotes from the bomber indicate he was determined to carry out the attack and maximize casualties, so it does seem likely that he'd have looked for a way to carry out the attack even if the FBI informant hadn't been involved.
Unfortunately, this attack has brought out the usual hateful anti-Islam commentary in the message boards. Portland (and Oregon in general) isn't exactly the cultural melting pot you see in other parts of the country, so the modest community of Muslims and/or Africans in our city are probably going to face unwarranted discrimination over the next few weeks and months. I don't really expect any sort of violence or serious vandalism in their communities, but I'd hate to be a Somali or Muslim reading any online commentary on the Oregon Live website over the next few months.