Undercover agent describes first-hand terrorism discussions at trial

Undercover agent describes first-hand terrorism discussions at trial »Play Video
A sketch of Mohamed Mohamud in court on Monday. (Sketch by Deborah Marble)

PORTLAND, Ore. -- You couldn’t see his face, but his voice told the story.

An undercover FBI agent took the stand late in the afternoon Monday to describe his email correspondence and meetings with Mohamed Mohamud, which began after the FBI had targeted the teenager as a potential terrorist.

The agent was in disguise and went only by a pseudonym, Youseff, when he took the witness stand just after 3:30 p.m. in U.S. District Court Judge Garr King’s courtroom. He was in disguise to avoid detection during future undercover operations.

Reporters and members of the public were ushered from the courtroom before Youseff began his account; they listened to his testimony via video satellite in another courtroom. The camera was positioned away from the agent’s face.

Youseff is one of the prosecution’s star witness in the trial of the 21-year-old former Oregon State University student charged with attempt to use a weapon of mass destruction. Mohamed is accused of plotting to bomb Portland’s Christmas tree-lighting ceremony on Nov. 26, 2010.

Youseff told jurors he first met with Mohamud in person in July 2010 after Youseff began emailing him under the alias of an associate of an Al-Qaida recruiter. The Al-Qaida recruiter, Amro Alali, had befriended the defendant and been in email contact with Mohamud about coming to Yemen for jihad training.

Youseff and Mohamud met in downtown Portland and walked to the nearby Embassy Suites hotel. Youseff said he was trying to gauge the seriousness of Mohamud’s jihad extremism.

“I asked him what he was willing to do for the cause” of radical Islam, Youseff said. “He said he would do anything.”

Youseff said he gave Mohamud five options: He could pray five times a day, obtain an engineering degree, raise money for the jihad, become operational or become a martyr.

Mohamud said he wanted to be operational.

Inquiring what Mohamud meant by being operational, Youseff said Mohamud "talked about doing what the other brothers do – get a car and fill it with explosives.”

The two talked for about 30 minutes, and Youseff said he told the teenager to come up with a target location they would discuss further at a later meeting.

“I told him I had a brother who was an explosives expert and told him to research targets,” Youseff said.

The two continued to be in email contact in the next month. They met again in August, again at Embassy Suites, with Youseff’s explosives expert, another undercover officer.

Jurors were shown a 15-minute video of the meeting, mainly where Mohamud told the agents about his background and his dreams to become a radical martyr.

Youseff’s testimony was cut short Monday evening; he will resume his testimony on Tuesday morning. Prosecutors anticipate he will be on the stand for about two days.

Monday morning, an FBI agent who launched the undercover investigation of Mohamud took the stand as the government’s first witness in the terrorism trial.

Special agent Miltiadis Trousas described the emails that he intercepted in spring 2010 between Mohamud and an Al-Qaida recruiter that prompted the FBI to begin the undercover operation.

Mohamud “made statements that he wanted to be a martyr, so that was a great concern for us,” Trousas testified.

The trial is expected to last four weeks.