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Defense questions FBI's tactics in tree-lighting bomb plot

Defense questions FBI's tactics in tree-lighting bomb plot
A sketch of Mohamed Mohamud in court on Monday. (Sketch by Deborah Marble)
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PORTLAND, Ore. - In questioning an undercover FBI agent, a defense attorney on Wednesday aimed to show the agent lavished Mohamed Mohamud with money and food in the months before the 2010 Christmas tree lighting bomb plot.

On the fourth day of trial, defense attorney Lisa Hay illustrated how the 19-year-old was vulnerable to entrapment: Mohamud was poor, had a troubled home life and was conflicted in his religious beliefs when the agent known as Youssef and a fellow undercover agent came into his life.

And Youssef took advantage of that, Hay asserted.

Youssef, the prosecution’s star witness, posed as an Al-Qaida recruiter and corresponded and met with the defendant for months leading up to the Nov. 26, 2010, bomb plot. His true identity was shielded during the trial to protect other undercover operations.

Hay began her cross-examination of Youssef on Wednesday morning, wrapping it up by lunchtime.

Hay pointed out Mohamud was conflicted in his religious beliefs – he prescribed to radical Islam, but still drank, smoked and partied at Oregon State University.

“He knew a lot about religion, but he was still seeking guidance?” Hay asked.

“Yes, but not religious guidance,” Youssef said.

The defense attorney then questioned Youssef about giving Mohamud nearly $3,000. Youssef said the money was intended for rent, a rental deposit and utilities. The FBI wanted Mohamud to live alone, so agents could monitor him better and keep him isolated from other potential co-conspirators.

“He didn’t have much money until you came into his life, correct?,” Hay asked.

“I didn’t know what his bank account held,” Youssef said.

The attorney pointed out that Mohamud did not have a job when he met Youssef and talked about needing money.

Hay showed how Mohamud lacked the sophistication to carry out the bomb plan himself, citing his young age.

“Sometimes you talked to him in a tone as if he were still a child, correct?,” Hay asked.

“I disagree. I see how it could have come off like that,” Youssef answered.

Mohamud wasn’t sure how to obtain a storage shed to house the van with the bomb, the defense attorney pointed out.

Hay played a sound recording of a conversation between the agent and Mohamud, where Mohamud questioned what type of storage shed to rent and expressed confusion on how to reserve one.

“Did he ultimately rent the storage shed?,” U.S. Assistant Attorney Ethan Knight questioned when it was her turn to question Youssef again. Youssef said Mohamud did.

Knight then asked Youssef about whether the teenager appeared manipulable and conflicted, as the defense is arguing. Youssef said he did not.

“He knew what he wanted to do and it was to kill Americans,” Youssef said. “Before I met him.”

After roughly two days of testimony, Youssef may be called to the stand again later in the trial to discuss the day of the bomb plot.

The trial is expected to last four weeks.

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