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Friday, June 14, 2024 | Back issues
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Alleged Terrorist’s Parents|Testify Through Tears

PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) - The parents of the alleged "Christmas tree bomber" testified Monday that they worried that their son was being "brainwashed" by extremists, and wanted him to stay in the United States to get a college education.

Mohamed Mohamud, 21, is charged with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction: plotting to detonate a van full of explosives at a 2010 Christmas tree lighting ceremony in downtown Portland.

Mohamud, born in Somalia, was raised in Beaverton, Ore. and was studying engineering at Oregon State University when he was arrested, the day after Thanksgiving in 2010.

His parents, Osman and Mariam Barre, testified as defense witnesses Monday. They have been in U.S. District Judge Garr King's courtroom for every day of their son's trial.

Osman Barre came to the United States as a refugee in 1993, fleeing the civil war that had broken out in 1991.

He wept as he told how he had to leave behind his wife and 2-year old son, Mohamed. He said that his wife and young son were "malnourished, suffering, but happy" when they arrived in Oregon the next year.

"We were grateful for America," Osman said. The refugee family was sponsored by several Portland-area churches.

In Somalia, Osman testified, he had been a university lecturer with an engineering degree. He is now a software engineer.

As a child, his father said, Mohamed enjoyed swimming, reading Harry Potter novels and watching the Portland Trailblazers. But he said his son suffered an "identity crisis" as an African Muslim in a new country.

During a family trip to London in 2008, Osman said, his son was enamored by the Muslim culture there.

"Dad, can we come here?" Osman recalled his son asking.

"I was very strict with my kids," Osman testified. When his son expressed interest in studying religion in a Muslim country, Osman said, he told him he should finish his studies in the United States, and that he could travel abroad "when you're mature enough."

"I brought you here to give you a life of prosperity," he told him. He said he had high expectations for Mohamed, his first-born son.

Osman recounted events in August 2009, when he and his wife Mariam were separating. Around that time, Mohamed told his father he had a visa, passport and ticket, and was traveling to Yemen.

"As a parent, I panicked," Osman said. He called the FBI to try to get them to stop Mohamed from leaving the country. Because Mohamed was an adult, the FBI told Osman they could not stop him.

"Technically he may be an adult," Osman recalled saying. "But he's still a kid, and he's immature."

Osman said his son was "easy to influence" and that someone might "take advantage of his weakness."

Both Osman and Mariam testified that they feared for their son's safety because they had heard about young Somali men in Minneapolis who had been "brainwashed" by overseas militants and had abruptly left the U.S.

Mariam shed tears as she told the jury that she knew a woman who had lost her young son when he went to fight alongside Somali militants.

In the summer of 2010, Mohamed planned to travel to Alaska to work on a fishing boat. Osman bought a plane ticket for his son, but when his parents took him to the airport, they learned he was on a no-fly list.

Unbeknownst to Mohamed and his parents, the FBI already knew about the young man's plans to travel to Alaska.

At the Portland airport, Mohamed and his parents were approached by two FBI agents, who then questioned them in a private room.

"I was upset because I thought they were profiling my kid because I had called the FBI," Osman testified.

He said he told his son not to worry about being on the no-fly list, and that he would hire a lawyer to clear up the situation.

Wanting to keep his son busy for the summer, Osman said he arranged for him get other jobs that summer, in Oregon.

Then Mohamed's mother Mariam testified. She spoke softly and appeared to be fighting back tears at times.

Asked by public defender Steve Sady to describe conditions in Mogadishu, Mariam used two words after a long pause: "Terrible. War."

She talked briefly about being separated from her husband shortly after Mohamed was born. She said that "educated people" such as her husband were being killed in the Somali civil war, so he had to flee.

Mariam and Mohamed moved to the United States in 1994. She spoke no English, and had never heard of Portland. But she described the move as "beginning our life again."

She became a U.S. citizen, and said that now "I feel as equal as everyone in this court." She works for a company that contracts with the U.S. Postal Service.

Mariam said her son seemed to enjoy learning, and picked up English very quickly. He had many friends, "nice young kids" of "every different color."

The day she learned her son had been arrested, Mariam said, Osman called her on her drive home from work.

"I'll tell you later when you're not driving," her husband told her. "This is bad."

Both parents testified that they visit their son in jail every weekend.

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