Mohamed Mohamud, dressed in a brown corduroy jacket, watched the final defense witness leave the stand late Tuesday afternoon in a Portland federal courthouse. Attorneys are expected to give closing arguments Wednesday morning.
The nine-woman, seven-man jury will decide whether Mohamud is guilty of attempting to detonate a weapon of mass destruction at a Portland Christmas tree-lighting in November 2010. His defense team contends that he was entrapped.
In support of their contention, prosecutors brought out the undercover FBI agents whom Mohamud thought were his jihadi co-conspirators. They each testified that Mohamud, 18 years old when they met him, conceived of and helped carry out the bomb plot.
Mohamud never hesitated, they testified, even when given a series of outs, and willingly pressed a button on a cellphone that he believed would detonate a 1,800-pound diesel-and-fertilizer bomb near 25,000 people at the tree lighting. The bomb was a fake placed there by the undercover agents.
Mohamud’s defense team, relying on much of the same recordings of meetings and phone calls, along with text messages, contend that Mohamud couldn’t have thought of the plan. He talked openly about violent jihad and privately expressed glee at 9/11, but had neither the will nor the means to commit terrorism.
On Tuesday, the defense called Dr. Marc Sageman, a former CIA officer who testified about al-Qaida before the 9/11 Commission in 2003. He testified that he reviewed Mohamud’s communications with the undercover agents, and in his judgment, Mohamud was not a threat until the FBI met with him in person.
Before the undercover meetings, Mohamud had exchanged emails with an FBI source and with Samir Khan, an al-Qaida lieutenant killed in 2011 who led the group’s effort to radicalize young men in the U.S. Mohamud’s contact with Khan brought him to the FBI’s attention.
But none of that contact ever amounted to a “furtherance of violence,” part of Sageman’s criteria for judging whether a person is likely to engage in terrorism.
One of the prosecution’s central points is that Mohamud was clearly seeking contact with al-Qaida, and since he contacted Khan once, he could find another al-Qaida recruiter, or “spotter,” again. Sageman contested that notion, saying there has never been a case of violence connected to terror groups in the U.S. that began with an al-Qaida recruiter or spotter.
“You’ve heard about these things,” Sageman said, “but there is no evidence.”
Earlier Tuesday, Elizabeth Cauffman, a professor of psychology at the University of California-Irvine, testified that recordings of the two undercover FBI agents show subtle attempts to convince Mohamud that the path to violence was the correct one.
Prosecutors say recordings of Mohamud agreeing to buy toggle switches and barrels to carry explosives are evidence that he was a willing participant in the plot. But Cauffman said that Mohamud had been conditioned by a system of reward, praise and prodding by the agents to agree with anything they said.
“They gave him the sense (that) they were authority figures,” Cauffman said. “Adolescents don’t want to seem like wimps.”
Mohamud’s brain likely wasn’t fully developed at age 17, when he began attempts to reach al-Qaida, Cauffman testified. By age 18, Mohamud had fully-formed intellectual capabilities but was still emotionally immature and prone to risky decisions, Cauffman said.
Mohamud’s age makes him among the youngest ever targeted by post-9/11 stings carried out by the FBI on suspected terrorists. He is now 21.
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