Secrets like the identity of the "little brother" he was always talking about with his friends -- despite the fact that he has no brother -- and the fiancee he told everyone he had who doesn't seem to exist, either.
Friends of the student who was arrested last week after he allegedly attempted to bomb a tree-lighting ceremony in Portland, Oregon, say they are shocked by the news. Oregon State University student Mohammad Mohamed has known Mohamud for over one and a half years and, along with other mutual friends, had met with his "good friend" at least four times a week. He says that the "fun-loving, good-natured guy who wouldn't even hurt a fly" was -- looking back on it now -- apparently keeping important things from his best friends.
"I found out that he actually dropped out of school this term, on October 6, from the papers. And he never mentioned that to us at all. And it was surprising to us, because he still kept coming to school -- we saw him on a regular basis on campus, in the library, in the quad," Mohamed says.
What his friends do know for certain is that Mohamud had some trouble at home. Unusually for the Somali community, his parents got divorced in 2009, and Mohamud regularly talked with his friends about "day to day problems with his dad" and "how his parents have disappointed him," according to his college friend Mohamed. He never spoke ill of his siblings and in fact "always talked good things about his little brother" who his friends have now discovered he does not have. He never went into specifics about the family issues, other than to say that "his dad promised to send him money but didn't."
Seattle-based Somali-American community leader Mohamud Yussuf, has known the student's father for years now -- since their days working together in a private school in Somalia and later in refugee camps in Kenya. Yussuf, who is also a journalist for the BBC Somali service and the editor of Runtanews.com, says the father, an engineer at Intel in Hillsboro, Oregon, just 20 miles west of Portland, is "well educated, well behaved, a man of honor and dignity." But despite the family's good standing in the community, tensions beneath the surface have led to talk. "People say rumors like one daughter has left home and is now living a different life," Yussuf says. The arrest has added to the community's curiosity about what was happening behind closed doors.
One story has now been openly reported – that Mohamud’s own father turned him into the FBI nearly one year ago -- an event that ultimately led to the FBI sting operation and the arrest.
Many Americans of all backgrounds are wondering why instead of using the tip to help the teenager, the FBI instead allegedly groomed him for entrapment. Why, instead of stopping a young alleged would-be terrorist from becoming radicalized and a danger to others, the FBI apparently assisted him in continuing along that very path.
Portland's Somali-American community leader, the founder and director of the Center for Intercultural Organizing, Kayse Jama, says that the arrest is "a wake-up call" to find "effective and culturally appropriate" means to address some of the "underlying root causes that are contributing to challenges that the Somali youth are facing in this country." The deep-rooted challenges of immigration aside, Jama says Somali-Americans face unique problems as they learn to settle in this country.
"I think that the reality is that as Somali Americans living in this country, we are refugees, Muslims, black and that comes with a lot of social issues. And on top of that, there are these youths who are trying to find their identity and are having an identity crisis," Jama says.
For Mohamud, the identity crisis seems to have gone beyond the normal contradictions of balancing immigrant culture with American culture. Like many Muslim-Americans, he was a practicing Muslim who "occasionally went to the mosque" but at times participated in activities that are contrary to the tenets of the religion. "He's a young guy, you know, he still had fun," Mohamed says. "He still partied, he drank, things like that. So it wasn't like he was like a strict, one-path type of person." Fellow Somali-Americans even considered him to be more American in his behavior, attire and attitudes, than Somali. But for Mohamud, these normal contradictions allegedly obscured a far more serious identity problem.
His friends say they never had any cause to question his behavior, but looking back, some of them wonder why he didn't tell him that, after working two jobs in the summer to support himself at university, he left school in the middle of the term. Or why, after he had promised a friend to room with him in private housing this term, he suddenly decided to live on his own just before the term began, explaining that he was engaged to be married and therefore needed his own space.
Perhaps no one second-guessed these things because the tight-knit Somali-American community as a whole never had reason, until now, to feel that one of their own could be "used against" them, as Yussuf says many feel. Mainly because the community is authentically grateful to have been welcomed in the United States. "We the people who came to this country are the peace-loving people. We are happy to be in this country. This is the only country right now we have left for us," Yussuf adds.
Now that he has been arrested, many people, including his lawyer, are considering the possibility that any double life Mohammad Osman might have lived could have been bolstered by a very powerful -- and presumably for a teenager, intimidating -- source: the government itself.
"The information released by the government raises significant concerns about the government manufacturing crime -- or entrapment," his lawyer stated this week. But whether he was brainwashed and intimidated by authority figures or, as the government alleges, he acted on his own, Mohamud has a long road to travel before he can clear his name, if ever.
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