Mohamud’s Attorneys Press|FBI Agents on Roles in Sting | Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, November 29, 2023
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Mohamud’s Attorneys Press|FBI Agents on Roles in Sting

PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) - Public defenders for the alleged "Christmas tree bomber" grilled two undercover FBI agents Thursday about how they encouraged Mohamed Mohamud to wreak havoc on a day-after Thanksgiving ceremony two years ago.

Mohamud, then 19, was arrested in an FBI sting in on Nov. 26, 2010, and charged with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction: a fake bomb.

It is clear from evidence presented in the first week of his trial that Mohamud provided some plans for a terrorist attack, and ultimately dialed a cell phone number that he thought would detonate a van full of explosives near Pioneer Square in downtown Portland.

What is not clear is how much influence the FBI agents had over Mohamud in the months before his arrest, and how much of the plan was actually devised by the teenager.

Mohamud's attorneys elicited testimony from the undercover agents that the FBI supplied a number of items to be used in the attack, including a van for the fake bomb, a storage unit for it, and money for Mohamud's rent.

Mohamud's attorneys say the FBI agents induced him into the terrorist plot, which he was not capable of carrying out on his own.

The agents acknowledged that Mohamud had no knowledge of explosives.

In one surreptitiously made recording, the teen-ager says his only experience with explosives was a "special firework" called a "Piccolo Pete," that is ignited in a Gatorade bottle.

Federal prosecutors and the FBI agents say Mohamud picked the day, time and place of the attack, and was "at peace" with his plan to kill non-Muslims.

His first face-to-face meeting with an undercover agent, posing as an al-Qaida recruiter named Youssef, was not preserved due to a "recording malfunction," the FBI agent said.

So the jury will not hear audio of Mohamud presenting the plan that prosecutors claim he initiated.

Youssef was joined by an undercover agent who called himself Hussein, and posed as an explosives expert with experience as a terrorist.

U.S. District Judge Garr King cleared the court of everyone but attorneys and the jury this week when the undercover agents testified. The public heard them testify under their pseudonyms from closed-circuit television in a separate courtroom.

The agents claimed they wanted to control Mohamud to ensure he didn't martyr himself or try to find someone else to carry out "his plan."

"I see a lot of potential," Hussein told Mohamud in one recorded meeting.

"We want you to go overseas," Youssef said in the recording.

In their roles as al-Qaeda operatives, the agents told Mohamud that after the attack they would send him to Yemen with a fake passport. They asked him to devise a false name and cover story.

In one email to Youssef, Mohamud suggested he pose as a "tourist/rapper tryna find his roots in Africa."

He said he would bring a camera and "rap if anyone asks."

Wax grilled Hussein about the ways he and Youssef gave Mohamud tasks and directions while "minimizing his role" in the plot.

For example, Youssef says in one recording that "the planning has been years" in the making, and both agents refer to how Mohamud's actions could hurt al-Qaeda "brothers" abroad.

Prosecutor Pam Holsinger elicited testimony from Hussein that the agents made multiple attempts to help Mohamud understand the gravity of the plan, and that there was "no shame" in backing out.

"I think we were very clear that he could leave at any time," Hussein testified.

Holsinger asked why Hussein brought up God in his conversations with Mohamud.

"That's what al-Qaeda terrorists do," Hussein said. "They invoke God."

Public defender Lisa Hay cross-examined Youssef, and brought up some of the "missteps" of the investigation where he "made mistakes in getting out of role."

During one conversation, Youssef told Mohamud, "We can't get you arrested just yet."

"Kind of a big slip, wouldn't you say?" Hay asked.

Youssef said it was a joke.

The agent said that at one point he felt Mohamud was suicidal. Hay asked if Mohamud seemed depressed.

"Not that kind of suicidal," Youssef said. "He wanted to go to heaven."

Somali-born Mohamud spent his formative years in Oregon, attending high school in Beaverton and freshman year at Oregon State University in Corvallis.

His trial is expected to last five weeks.

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