Testimony: FBI agent tried to prevent Mohamud from martyring self

Testimony: FBI agent tried to prevent Mohamud from martyring self
A sketch of Mohamed Mohamud sitting with this defense attorney during opening statements on Friday. (Sketch by Deborah Marble)

PORTLAND, Ore. – An undercover FBI agent known as "Youssef" told jurors Tuesday of concerns that Mohamed Mohamud was going to martyr himself and described some of the steps they took to make sure that didn't happen.

The agent is one of the main investigators who interacted with Mohamud as the feds said he plotted to detonate a bomb at a 2010 Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Pioneer Courthouse Square. His identity is being obscured by the court to protect his undercover status on other FBI operations.

"We were very worried that he was going to take matters into his own hands," Youssef said. "We didn't want him to martyr himself."

Youssef described a three-step process they took to try to ensure Mohamud didn't go rogue.

They had to convince the young man that he didn't want to martyr himself and that he would do more good by going overseas after the attack and talking about what he had done. Agents also kept him busy with tasks.

"We wanted him to be active on the creation of the explosive device," Youssef told jurors.

To that extent, they gave him a shopping list of components including toggle switches, timers and cell phones.

On a surveillance tape, Youssef can be heard saying Mohamud should get Nokia phones, but added it could be another brand.

"Don't kill yourself for the Nokia," he said.

Youssef also said he cautioned him to spread his purchase among several stores - the timers at Lowes, the phones at Walmart - and over several days so as not to "raise eyebrows" that would result in someone "calling the authorities."

Youssef told jurors there was another reason to have Mohamud buy the components.

"We wanted him to be an active participant in the bomb-making to realize the magnitude of his plan and give him time to reconsider," he said.

The FBI agent told jurors that they tried several times to discourage Mohamud from going forward with the plan but were never successful.

At one point they showed him a purported Jihadi training film - actually produced by the FBI - and described the harsh living conditions he would experience after fleeing the United States.

"I'm praying for that," Mohamud responded, according to Youssef.

Youssef will continue his testimony on Tuesday afternoon before being cross-examined by defense attorneys. Mohamud’s trial is expected to last for several more weeks.

Prosecutors are trying to prove Mohamud already was prepared for violent jihad by the time the FBI launched a sting operation targeting him.

His defense team has said he was a braggart and a loudmouth, but no terrorist, before undercover government agents filled his head with fantasies of radical Islamic superstardom.
   
Either way, Mohamud was filmed in September 2010 making what he hoped would air as his final words to his parents, sister and the West before he planned to detonate a bomb in Portland later that year and flee the country.
   
"Living (in the U.S.) is a sin," he cautioned other Muslims. Addressing the West, he said, "As long as you threaten our security, your people will not remain safe."

The video was shot at the behest of two undercover FBI agents posing as jihadis who worked Mohamud as the target of the sting for at least a month before the video was made. It was shown at the end of testimony Tuesday in Mohamud's trial in Oregon federal court on terrorism charges.

Read more: Previous coverage of the Mohamed Mohamud tria