PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) - Since Sept. 11, 2001, the Department of Justice has charged more than 500 people with terrorism offenses, many of whom were convicted after sting operations using confidential informants.
Mohamed Mohamud, on trial in Oregon on charges of plotting to bomb a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in Portland, is one of them.
Critics of such sting operations claim that in many cases the FBI helps to create the very crimes it later claims to have "foiled."
Investigative reporter Trevor Aaronson told Courthouse News that Mohamud's story exemplifies the FBI's tactic of "creating the very enemy it's hunting."
In his new book "The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI's Manufactured War on Terrorism," Aaronson cites numerous examples of sting operations that have "foiled" terrorist plots since 9/11.
Aaronson claims that FBI sting operations often target people who lack the technical or financial means to commit terrorist acts, without the FBI's false offers of help.
"There's no evidence that there are actually al-Qaeda agents in the United States," Aaronson told Courthouse News. "But even if there were, you'd think they'd be interested in people who were a lot more competent.
"Ultimately what they're getting in these sting operations are guys on the fringes of society who, left to their own devices, could have never committed the crime they were charged with."
Aaronson said that it's clear that the then-19-year-old Mohamud did not have "the money or ability to build a bomb." He said Mohamud was nothing more than a "loudmouth malcontent" on the Internet.
"I think it's highly likely he would have matured out of these beliefs and never would have amounted to much as a terrorist in any way," Aaronson said.
At the time of the plot, which was to culminate on the day after Thanksgiving 2010, Mohamud did not have a valid driver's license and had no experience with explosives. His defense team claims there is no way he could have detonated a bomb without the FBI's help.
By August 2011, the Justice Department had accused more than 500 defendants of terrorism charges, Aaronson said. Of those, more than 150 involved stings, and nearly 250 used FBI informants, he said.
Aaronson claims in his book that most of the people charged were "small-time criminals with distant links to terrorists overseas."
Prosecutors have won many convictions in terrorism cases involving stings, because the FBI is able to persuade juries that people can "self-radicalize" over the Internet, Aaronson said. He called this an "extraordinary leap in logic."
Terror consultant Evan Kohlmann is expected to testify for the prosecution in Mohamud's trial.
But Aaronson claims that Kohlmann and others like him "make their money on hyping the threat of Islamic terrorism."
Prosecutors in terror cases have difficulty finding social scientists to testify about how people become radicalized, Aaronson said.
So, he said, they resort to experts such as Kohlmann, who research jihadi movements on the Internet.
Aaronson said such experts see "an Islamic terrorist hiding around every corner."
Mohamud is not the first terror defendant whose lawyers claim he was entrapped by the FBI. But Aaronson said he believes Mohamud "probably has the best chance" of persuading the jury that he was entrapped by the FBI.
"His lawyers seem like they're really putting on a bigger defense," Aaronson said.
Mohamud's trial continues today in Federal Court.
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