Closing Arguments in|Xmas Tree Bomber Trial | Courthouse News Service
Tuesday, November 28, 2023
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Closing Arguments in|Xmas Tree Bomber Trial

PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) - In closing arguments Wednesday, attorneys asked a federal jury to decide whether the so-called "Christmas tree bomber" was a teen-ager on the path to terrorism, or was entrapped by an FBI "social science experiment from hell."

Mohamed Mohamud, now 21, was arrested in November 2010 after dialing a cell phone he thought would detonate a van full of explosives near a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland. He is charged with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction.

The arrest came after months of planning with two undercover FBI agents posing as al-Qaeda operatives.

In the two-week trial, prosecutors argued that Mohamud's contact with international terrorists and writings for radical jihadi magazines showed he was committed to the plot that he had "no hesitation and no reluctance" to carry out.

U.S. District Judge Garr King read the jury instructions Wednesday morning before closing arguments, and explained elements of entrapment law.

To prove entrapment, Mohamud's public defenders must persuade the jury that Mohamud, then 19, was either not predisposed to commit a terrorist act, or was induced into it by the FBI.

Prosecutor Ethan Knight told the jury that the case was "about a single and remarkable choice" by Mohamud to kill untold thousands of people.

Mohamud had a "committed, well-developed ideology" and was predisposed to commit an act of terror "long before the government arrived," Knight said.

"The choice was his and his alone," he told the jury.

Knight said Mohamud showed a willingness to carry out a terrorist attack as early as 2008, when created an email account and spent time on radical jihadi web forums.

Knight told the jury that there is nothing inherently wrong with writing on extremist topics, but that Mohamud developed an "extraordinary level of focus and commitment" to his writing for the magazine, Jihad Recollections.

That online magazine was published by al-Qaeda affiliate Samir Khan, who was killed on Sept. 30, 2011 in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen that also killed radical cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki.

Knight claimed that Mohamud was becoming more radical, and consciously concealed his extremist beliefs when he entered Oregon State University as a freshman.

Though he lived the life of a "normal college student," Knight said, Mohamud was never conflicted about his decision to kill people.

"That's sad," Knight told the jury, "but it's what the evidence shows."

Public defender Steve Sady saw a different timeline of events, arguing that his client had no capacity to be a terrorist until the FBI got involved.

Quoting Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Sady said the "line between good and evil" runs through every person's heart - and the government should not be pushing that line.

"You don't put your thumb on the scale of evil," Sady told the jury.

When an undercover agent identified as "Bill Smith" emailed Mohamud on Nov. 9, 2009, it started a year of "influence, persuasion and inducement," Sady said.

Quoting defense expert Marc Sageman, Sady said Mohamud had "one foot in, one foot out:" he was involved in a radical Islamist "discursive community" while also living the life of a college student, drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana.

"Youssef" and "Hussein," the two undercover agents in the case, both testified that they developed a relationship with Mohamud.

Sady argued that by assuming roles as an "older brother" and "father figure" respectively, Youssef and Hussein appealed to Mohamud as authority figures and induced him into the terror plot.

Despite "massive" surveillance, the FBI was not able to find any concrete plans that Mohamud wished to build a weapon, Sady told the jury.

Mohamud engaged in "ugly, nasty" talk on jihadi forums online, but he was moving away from that community before the FBI stepped in, Sady said.

"Mr. Mohamud is not on trial for his beliefs," Sady said.

Citing the social science experts who testified for the defense, Sady said Mohamud was not a "genuine threat" before the FBI contacted him.

What occurred was a "social science experiment from hell," Sady said. He said the FBI agents took advantage of Mohamud's youth, naïveté and religious beliefs to entrap him into the terror plot.

The jury will continue its deliberations today (Thursday).

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