Family, friends: No indication Mohamud was a terrorist

Family, friends: No indication Mohamud was a terrorist
A courtroom sketch of Mohamed Mohamud as the defense started they arguments on Monday. (Sketch by Deborah Marble)

PORTLAND, Ore. -- The mother of an Oregon terrorism suspect told jurors on Monday she had no idea her son was conspiring with al-Qaida recruiters.

The first indication something was awry came the evening of the planned bombing, Mariam Barre testified. She was driving home from work just after 6:30 p.m. Nov. 26, 2010, when her husband called her.

“He said, ‘When you come home, I’ll tell you something.’” Barre said, apparently holding back tears. “He said, ‘This is bad.’”

That was when she said learned Mohamed Mohamud, then 19, had just been arrested on suspicion of plotting to bomb Portland’s Christmas tree lighting event. He had allegedly conspired with who he thought were al-Qaida recruiters; they were actually two undercover FBI agents who began corresponding with Mohamud in the summer of 2010.

Barre was one of several witnesses who testified on Monday as the defense began its case in support of the Beaverton, Ore., native.

In the trial so far, which has already lasted weeks, the prosecution has painted Mohamud as a fledgling terrorist who wrote for an extremist Jihad publication and boasted that he wanted to be a martyr for radical Islam.

The defense, however, has poked holes in the government’s theory, arguing Mohamud’s violent views only became apparent after the undercover FBI agents started corresponding with him. They argue he was an impressionable and troubled teen who was entrapped by the agents.

Several acquaintances and friends testified Monday and struck the same tone as Mohamud’s mother: They said there was no indication Mohamud was anything more than a “fun-loving, social, respectful and studious kid.”

Josh Alinger, who went to elementary and middle schools with Mohamud, also attended OSU with him. He said, by every indication, nothing seemed out of the ordinary about Mohamud. Alinger said Mohamud seldom talked about religion and never about violence.

“Mr. Mohamud was very normal appearing,” Alinger said. “Very friendly to me, to everyone. Very, very normal.”

That was also the impression of Mohamud’s high school English teacher. James Duncan said the teen was respectful and studious, becoming more gregarious toward the end of high school.

“If anything, he was too social,” Duncan said.

The one red flag came the summer before the bomb plot, witnesses said. Mohamud’s father, Osman Barre, testified in the morning that his son had been experiencing a troubled home life when the FBI “brainwashed him.”

Christina Barnes, a nurse at Multnomah County Corrections, interviewed Mohamud the morning after his arrest. She said Mohamud told her he had grown depressed and contemplated suicide in summer 2010.

He told her he felt lost and lacked direction during that time.

“He got connected with some people who gave him a purpose and direction,” Barnes said, referring to the al-Qaida recruiters. “They made him feel a sense of direction and cared about.”

Barnes said Mohamud became emotional when he recounted what led to his arrest. “He just couldn’t get how he had gone from being a student to being labeled a terrorist in jail.”