PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) - A federal judge cleared the courtroom Monday for an undercover FBI agent's testimony as the trial of the so-called "Christmas tree bomber" began.
Mohamed Mohamud, now 21, is accused of plotting to bomb a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in 2010. The one-count indictment accuses him of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. He faces up to life in prison if convicted.
U.S. District Judge Garr King cleared the courtroom of everyone but attorneys and the jury for the testimony of an undercover FBI witness. That came after another FBI agent testified in open court.
Special agent Miltiadis Trousas was the first to testify Monday, under questioning by prosecutor Ethan Knight.
Trousas testified that he knew that Mohamud, as a high school senior in Beaverton, Oregon, was "in contact with some dangerous people overseas." That led to the undercover investigation.
The "dangerous people" included Saudi citizen Amro Al-Ali, who was wanted by international police, and tried to put Mohamud in touch with an al-Qaeda recruiter known as Abdul Hadi, Trousas said.
Mohamud also had communicated with Samir Khan, who was killed in a 2011 U.S. drone strike in Yemen. And Mohamud had written articles for an online magazine, Jihad Recollections, prosecutors claim.
One of his articles was "Getting Into Shape Without Weights," which he wrote as a senior in high school under the pen name Ibn al-Mubarak. In it, he described physical and mental preparation for jihad.
On cross-examination by public defender Steve Sady, Trousas mentioned his contact with a confidential source at Mohamud's mosque in Corvallis.
That source, who was in a position of authority at the mosque, told him that Mohamud was "looking for guidance" and was "easily influenced," Trousas said. The source also mentioned discord in Mohamud's family.
Mohamud's talk of martyrdom and his contacts with people affiliated with terrorism led the FBI to speed up the investigation, Trousas testified.
"We needed an agent on the ground to assess his mindset," Trousas said.
The agent who contacted Mohamud to set up a face-to-face meeting was "Youssef," an undercover agent who testified later in the day. Judge King cleared the courtroom for his testimony.
The public watched the testimony on closed-circuit television in another courtroom, while the agent testified in "light disguise" under his pseudonym.
Youssef, who spoke with an American accent, said he had moved to the United States from an Arabic-speaking country when he was 16.
Youssef said he posed as an al-Qaeda recruiter who knew Amro Al-Ali, and emailed Mohamud asking if he was "still able to help the brothers."
In their initial communications, Mohamud told Youssef, "I've been betrayed by my family," and he was not able to travel to Yemen as planned, the agent testified.
Trousas had testified that the FBI took this to mean that Mohamud wanted to cut ties with his family and move to Yemen.
During their email exchange, Mohamud asked to meet Youssef at his mosque. Mohamud was concerned that Youssef might be a "spy" and wanted more information about how he found him.
"Only as a precaution, brother," Mohamud said in an email. "No hard feelings."
The FBI invented the concept of an al-Qaeda "council" to explain how Youssef found Mohamud. Youssef suggested not meeting at the mosque because "the kuffar (non-Muslims) have eyes and ears" in mosques across the country.
The agent said that FBI policy forbids undercover work in places of worship.
Youssef said he was able to set up a face-to-face meeting with Mohamud by convincing him that the "council" had vouched for him.
In their first meeting, on July 30, 2010 in a hotel lobby in downtown Portland, Youssef asked Mohamud what he had been doing to be a good Muslim.
Youssef said he told Mohamud that he had five options: he could pray five times a day; study engineering or medicine to help Muslims abroad; raise money for Islamic causes; become "operational," or become a martyr.
Trousas and Youssef both testified that if Mohamud said he wanted to be "operational" or become a martyr, the FBI would know he had violent intentions.
Youssef testified that Mohamud told him at the first meeting that he wanted to be "operational," and the undercover investigation continued.
There is no recording of the initial meeting between Mohamud and Youssef, which the agent claimed was due to a recording malfunction which he discovered two weeks after the meeting.
As a method of "assessing his resolve," Youssef said, he told Mohamud he could introduce him to an "explosives expert" named Hussein - another undercover FBI agent.
The agents set up a second meeting with Mohamud in August 2010.
Prosecutors showed a secretly recorded video of Youssef and Hussein meeting with Mohamud in a hotel room.
It is evening in the video and the men break their Ramadan fast with a meal while talking. The conversation is peppered with Arabic phrases and quotes from the Koran, as the agents ask Mohamud about work and school.
Mohamud appears somewhat shy in the video, but opens up with prodding from Youssef and Hussein. He talks about working at Nike and Goodwill for the summer before he returns to Oregon State University for the fall semester.
"There's a very talented young man in our midst," Youssef tells Hussein.
Mohamud says in the video that his mother does not approve of his views and that they are not close. He tells the agents about a dream he had about the mountains of Yemen and Afghanistan, and leading 11,000 soldiers into battle to take Jerusalem.
Youssef's testimony will continue today (Tuesday).
After a morning recess, a member of the jury asked Judge King for a written definition of "entrapment."
The judge urged the jury to focus on the evidence, and said he would instruct them on the definition at the end of the case.
The trial is expected to last five weeks.
Prosecutors claim that Mohamud planned to wage violent jihad in the United States. His attorneys say he was an impressionable and conflicted teen-ager who was provoked by undercover FBI agents.
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