PORTLAND Ore. (Reuters) - Attorneys for a Somali-American man convicted of trying to blow up a Christmas-tree lighting ceremony in Oregon argued for a new trial on Wednesday, telling a judge the former college student’s constitutional rights were violated by warrantless surveillance.
Mohamed Osman Mohamud, who was arrested in a sting operation involving fake explosives when he was 19, tried to use his cell phone in 2010 to remotely detonate an artificial car bomb planted near a Portland square crowded with people.
He was convicted last year of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction. Authorities said the public was never in any real danger from the plot, which involved FBI agents posing as Islamist militants.
Lawyers for the former Oregon State University student argued in federal court in Portland on Wednesday that authorities violated Mohamud’s constitutional rights by obtaining information from his electronic communications with foreign citizens whom the federal government had placed under surveillance without a warrant.
Lisa Hay, one of Mohamud’s federal public defenders, said it was as if the government had a warrant for a letter in a delivery truck, but “grabbed the whole truck” and examined all its contents.
Stephen Sady, another of Mohamud’s lawyers, said prosecutors were asking the judge “to go where no court has gone before” by allowing warrantless intrusions into telephone calls and electronic communication of American citizens. Mohamud is a naturalized U.S. citizen.
The arguments by Mohamud’s attorneys follow increased public debate about government monitoring of electronic communications, in light of disclosures made by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden about government surveillance.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ethan Knight told the judge that there was no warrant requirement for the way certain materials were collected in the case, and that information on Mohamud was collected as part of another investigation, he said.
At his three-week trial last year, Mohamud’s attorneys argued that overzealous law enforcement officers invented a crime and entrapped their client. But the jury agreed with prosecution’s argument that Mohamud was already radicalized and could have backed out of the bomb plot at any point.
He faces a possible life term in prison when he is sentenced, but his sentencing has been delayed while the judge considers the request from Mohamud’s attorneys for a new trial.
Reporting by Teresa Carson in Portland, Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Sandra Maler