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Man convicted in plot to bomb Oregon Christmas tree ceremony

January 31, 2013|By Kim Murphy
  • The Christmas tree ceremony at Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland, Ore., was the target of a bomb plot in November 2010, the FBI said.
The Christmas tree ceremony at Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland,… (Torsten Kjellstrand / Oregonian/Associated…)

A former Oregon State University student who had written of the need for jihad to “break the enemy’s will” was convicted Thursday of trying to detonate a truck bomb during a crowded Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland, Ore., in 2010.

A federal jury deliberated less than a day before reaching a verdict against Mohamed Osman Mohamud, 21, a Somali-American who met for months with undercover FBI agents he thought were Al Qaeda operatives and plotted what he thought would be a spectacularly violent holiday attack.

Mohamud, whose father insists he was recruited and brainwashed by the FBI, faces a sentence of up to life in prison on the charge of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction.

“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,” Greg Fowler, the FBI’s special agent in charge in Portland, said in a statement after the verdict.

“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."

The 20-day trial in downtown Portland took place a few blocks from where the bomb would have gone off if it had been real. Prosecutors laid out a series of recorded conversations and writings in which Mohamud, who was 18 when he met the two undercover agents, talked of the need to eliminate unbelievers and wage violent jihad against the West, at home and in Afghanistan.

“I can’t tell you how easy it should be to bring any community here in the West to its knees,” he wrote in an email to one of the undercover agents, who he thought was a terrorist recruiter, according to court documents.

Mohamud was born in Somalia but came to the U.S. at age 5 and grew up in the Portland suburb of Beaverton. His father is a software engineer at Intel Corp.

FBI agents testified that they repeatedly gave Mohamud chances to back out of the Christmas tree bomb plot, but he participated with enthusiasm. On the morning of the planned attack on Nov. 26, 2010, Assistant U.S. Atty. Ethan Knight told the jury, Mohamud ran into a friend at a nearby mall and declared: “This is the greatest morning of my life.”

“He was totally at peace," Knight said in closing arguments, according to local media reports. “And that calm only evaporated when the bombing didn’t happen.”

Prosecutors said the bomb Mohamud saw installed in the back of a van was fake, and when he twice pressed the buttons on a cellphone to detonate it, the device didn't explode. He was quickly taken into custody.

The defense contends Mohamud was entrapped, calling him a vulnerable, impressionable young man who was taken in by the two FBI agents and did what he did in hopes of pleasing them.

“This was not somebody sitting around thinking about blowing up Portland,” chief defense lawyer Stephen R. Sady told the jury, according to the Oregonian, which covered closing arguments in the case.

Mohamud’s father, Osman Barre, testified that he had contacted the FBI in 2009 when his son was planning to go to Yemen to study Arabic. He told agents that he feared his son was being brainwashed by Al Qaeda recruiters.

In the end, he said, it was the FBI who did his son more harm. Barre did not know that the FBI already had been watching his son for several months by the time it got Barre’s phone call.

Asked by Knight during cross-examination why he had used the word “brainwashed” in his phone call to the agents, the Associated Press reported, Barre interrupted him.

“Can I tell you,” he said, “the FBI brainwashed my son.”

After the verdict, defense attorneys said they would appeal. 

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