PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) – The 19-year-old accused of plotting to detonate a truck full of explosives during a Christmas tree lighting ceremony last week pleaded not guilty to the attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction.
Mohamed Osman Mohamud made his first appearance in Federal Court on Monday, entering the packed courtroom before U.S. Magistrate Judge John Acosta and greeting his public defender with a smile and a handshake. Dozens of people waited outside, including many women wearing headscarves and some carrying copies of the Qu’ran.
The Somali-American defendant spoke softly, saying only “Yes, Your Honor” in response to the question of whether he understood the charges against him.
Federal attorneys indicted Mohamud with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.
“This situation is very unusual,” Mohamud’s public defender, Stephen Sady, told the court.
“In the cases involving potential entrapment, it’s the first meeting that matters,” Sady said in reference to the absence of a recording of Mohamud and FBI agent Ryan Dwyer, who was named in the federal affidavit.
Judge Acosta denied Sady’s request for a preliminary hearing to question Dwyer.
Mohamud was arrested on Friday, and Sady said the federal complaint against his client became basically “a press release” by Saturday. The charges, Sady claimed, were the result of “quite sophisticated government agents” who were “basically grooming” Mohamud, and his arrest was timed for “maximum impact and maximum publicity.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ethan Knight responded that Mohamud chose the day and time of the planned attack.
In the federal affidavit, investigators claim Mohamud planned “a spectacular show” and did not care if he killed innocent people. The affidavit also claims Mohamud told an undercover agent that he “had been thinking of committing some form of violent jihad since the age of fifteen.”
Judge Acosta granted the prosecution’s request to hold Mohamud because he is a “flight risk and a risk to the community.” There was no request for bail.
Mohamud pleaded not guilty to the grand jury charge.
His 15-day trial is scheduled to begin on Feb. 1 before District Judge Garr M. King.