Mohamed Mohamud guilty of trying to bomb tree ceremony

Mohamed Mohamud guilty of trying to bomb tree ceremony

PORTLAND, Ore. – After deliberating for less than a full day, a federal jury on Thursday found Mohamed Mohamud guilty of trying to bomb Portland’s 2010 Christmas tree lighting ceremony.

In convicting Mohamud, the jury of seven women and five men rejected the defense's argument that the FBI entrapped him. The FBI set up an elaborate sting that culminated in Mohamud trying to detonate a fake bomb in Pioneer Courthouse Square as it was packed with thousands of people.

The verdict was read in court around 3 p.m. on Thursday, not quite 24 hours after the defense and prosecution rested their cases on Wednesday afternoon.

The crime of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. Sentencing was set for May 14.

Defense attorney Stephen Sady said he plans to appeal the verdict, adding they are trying to "be as forward looking as possible."

"We are disappointed with the verdict," Sady said. "We obviously though he was entrapped."

He also said they will seek a "substantially reduced sentence" based on the arguments made during the trial, including the entrapment defense.

U.S. Assistant Attorney Ethan Knight said during a press conference that he had not decided what sentence to pursue. That decision will be made after a "conscientious and thorough" review of Mohamud's background and other factors.

The sentencing range is broad: zero days to life in prison.

Mohamud did not outwardly show any emotion as the verdict was read. His family, who attended much of the trial, were not in the courtroom for the verdict.

The FBI's special agent in charge for the Portland Division said the case highlights the "difficult but important work that FBI employees do every day."

"Mr. Mohamud made a series of choices over a period of several years - choices that were leading him down a path that would have ended in violence," Special Agent in Charge Greg Fowler said. "His actions showed little regard for the rights and responsibilities that come with being an American or respect for the lives that he was prepared to take."

In a press conference outside U.S. District Court in downtown Portland, U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall said she was pleased with the verdict.

"This has been a difficult case for the city of Portland," she said. "We hope it will bring closure and healing."

Arguments during the trial

At issue during the trial, which lasted several weeks, was whether Mohamud, a 19-year-old Oregon State University student, was a fledgling terrorist who devised the plan, as the prosecution contended, or whether he was entrapped by overzealous FBI agents.

The defense argued Mohamud was young and vulnerable and only went along with the bomb plot under the persuasion of the undercover agents who posed as al-Qaida recruiters.

Defense attorneys conceded that Mohamud did write for violent jihad publications, but said he was not terrorism threat; he only began plotting violence after FBI agents came in contact with him, they argued. They suggested Mohamud was all bluster.

Prosecutors argued that Mohamud was predisposed to terrorism as early as 15 years old.

Mohamud, now 21, traded emails with an al-Qaida lieutenant later killed in a drone strike. He also told undercover agents he would pose as a college student while preparing for violent jihad.

Mohamud was never called to testify. Instead, the jurors saw thousands of exhibits and heard hours of testimony from friends, parents, undercover FBI agents and experts in counterterrorism, teenage brain development and the psychology of the Muslim world.

Knight told the jury earlier this week that a willingness to commit such a heinous crime is not something you can be coaxed to do. The bar to prove entrapment was high: that the government induced an "otherwise innocent person" to commit the crime, he pointed out.

Whatever else they might think about the methods of undercover agents or the government's decision to investigate a teenager, the underlying decision was Mohamud's and the motivation was hatred of the West.

"We believe there was sufficient evidence of signs of Mohamud's willingness to commit similar crimes" long before his contact with FBI agents, Knight said.

Read more: Recap of the closing arguments in the case

The Associated Press contributed to this report


Statement from FBI Special Agent in Charge Greg Fowler:

The verdict returned in the Mohamed Mohamud case highlights the difficult, but important, work that FBI employees do every day. Whether an employee is an undercover agent or analyst or technician – each has a role to play in keeping our community safe while at the same time respecting the freedoms that make this country strong.

Mr. Mohamud made a series of choices over a period of several years - choices that were leading him down a path that would have ended in violence. His actions showed little regard for the rights and responsibilities that come with being an American or respect for the lives that he was prepared to take.

Indeed, in this country everyone has a right to live, work and worship freely and without fear. FBI employees – in Oregon and around the world – find strength in preserving and protecting these core values.

I would like to thank the jurors for their service. I know that they carried a heavy burden – deciding the fate of a young man while balancing the needs for safety and justice. We greatly appreciate their service to their country.

In addition, I would like to thank the United States Attorney’s Office and its staff for their unwavering dedication to this investigation.