PORTLAND, Oregon (Reuters) - Jurors began deliberating on Wednesday in the trial of a Somali-born man accused of trying to blow up a Christmas-tree lighting event in Oregon, after prosecutors and defense lawyers sparred during closing arguments over his intent.
Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a naturalized U.S. citizen and former Oregon State University student, faces life in prison if he is found guilty of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction to blow up the holiday tree-lighting in Portland in November 2010, when he was 19.
He was arrested after attempting to use his cell phone to remotely detonate an artificial car bomb supplied to him by FBI agents posing as al Qaeda operatives.
The fake bomb was planted in a van left parked near a downtown Portland square crowded with thousands of people attending ceremony the day after Thanksgiving. No one was hurt, and authorities say the public was never in real danger.
During the three-week trial in U.S. District Court in Portland, defense attorneys argued that their client was charged with a crime that was essentially the creation of overzealous law enforcement officers.
During his closing statement in the closely watched case, federal public defender Stephen Sady argued that Mohamud was entrapped by the FBI and would never have committed the crime without their prodding and influence.
Sady characterized one operative as a handsome “warrior- politician” that acted as an older brother figure to the “manipulable and conflicted teenager” and the other as a father figure.
“The government cannot create crime,” Sady said. There is “nothing, nothing, nothing you have seen showing he (Mohamud) was preparing, planning or even thinking of such a thing” until he was first contacted by the FBI and then persuaded by the FBI undercover agents posing as Islamic militants, Sady said.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Ethan Knight said that the college student made “a single and remarkable choice” to “take the lives of thousands of people he had never met before.”
“The defendant was indeed predisposed” to committing the crime, Knight said. Knight reminded the jury that Mohamud wrote several stories for a radical Islamist online magazine called Jihadist Recollections and was active in radical chat rooms and online forums.
The FBI agents gave Mohamud multiple opportunities to pull out of the plot, Knight argued, but Mohamud showed no hesitation or reluctance, and, running into a friend the morning of the planned attack, told his friend that it was “the greatest morning of my life.”
Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Lisa Shumaker