Case of bomb plot suspect in jury's hands

Case of bomb plot suspect in jury's hands
A courtroom sketch of Mohamed Mohamud as the defense started they arguments on Monday. (Sketch by Deborah Marble)

PORTLAND, Ore. – A federal jury has begun deliberating the fate of Mohamed Mohamud, a former Oregon State University student charged with plotting to bomb Portland’s 2010 Christmas tree lighting ceremony.

After 12 days of testimony in U.S. District Court, attorneys presented their closing arguments all day on Wednesday, sending the case to a 12-member jury just before 4 p.m.

The jury will decide whether the 21-year-old Beaverton, Ore., native is guilty of attempt to use a weapon of mass destruction, a crime that could bring life in prison.

The focal point of the case was entrapment: where the government’s actions started and when Mohamud’s part of it began.

In his closing argument on Wednesday afternoon, Federal Chief Deputy Public Defender Stephen Sady lambasted undercover FBI agents who posed as jihad extremists, saying they “put their thumb on the scale toward evil.”

“In America, the government cannot create a crime,” he said.

Sady argued that before the first agent contacted Mohamud in November 2009, other FBI officials had concluded Mohamud was not a terrorism threat.

Detailed talk of “bringing war to the West” came after the influence of the agent who first emailed Mohamud – known as “Bill Smith” – in 2009. After emails with Smith, Mohamud met the two undercover agents who eventually helped him plan the bomb plot.

Sady said Mohamud was especially vulnerable because of his young age and he felt pressure to carry out the plan because the agents were older, more sophisticated and peppered him with compliments.

Mohamud was a troubled teenager who was a big talker, not a serious terrorist, Sady said. And the FBI took it too far, he added.

“He’s not a threat,” the defense attorney said. “He’s simply a person trying to live through a difficult adolescence.”

In his rebuttal, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ethan Knight scoffed at that argument.

“We are not talking about an adolescent period,” Knight said. “We’re talking about a bomb.”

Further, Mohamud did not show reluctance or hesitation in the months leading up to his bomb plot, the prosecutor argued.

The night of Portland’s Christmas tree lighting, on Nov. 26, 2010, as Mohamud pressed the button that was supposed to detonate the bomb that would kill thousands of people, “he was totally at peace,” Knight said.

“And that calm only evaporated when the bombing didn’t happen,” Knight said.

Knight addressed the defense’s theory: that Mohamud was an impressionable, conflicted teenager who was induced by undercover FBI agents to devise the plan.

Knight suggested common sense refutes that argument. “This is the type of offense that someone only commits when they wholeheartedly want to,” he said.

Mohamud did, in fact, want to commit violence long before “Bill Smith” contacted him in November 2009, Knight said.

The prosecutor cited violent jihad writings authored by Mohamud dating back to 2008, where the defendant talked about “eliminating the (nonbelievers).”

Mohamud also set up a secret email account to correspond with known al-Qaida recruiters, and also wrote for Jihad Recollections, an online al-Qaida publication.

By the time the FBI agents posing as al-Qaida recruiters began corresponding with him in June 2010, he was ready to commit a terrorist act, Knight argued.

“His decision had been made. He was just looking for the right people,” he said.

Mohamud’s ideology and plan were hidden from friends and family because he didn’t want to cause alarm or give authorities a reason to investigate him, the prosecutor added. Friends and acquaintances earlier testified for the defense that he appeared a normal, social and friendly student at Oregon State University.

“He had a double life, effectively,” Knight said.

Knight reiterated that Mohamud had continued peace in the days prior to the bomb plot. On the morning of the plan, the defendant told a friend that morning, “this is the greatest morning of my life," he said.

“His choice was easy that night and your choice is easy today,” the prosecutor said. “Find him guilty.”