PORTLAND, Ore. — An Oregon terrorism suspect dressed in a red headdress and white robes and reciting a speech pledging a “dark day” for the United States gave jurors their clearest glimpse yet at the supposed radicalization of a Somali-American teenager.
Prosecutors are trying to prove Mohamed Mohamud, 21, already was prepared for violent jihad by the time the FBI launched a sting operation targeting him. His defense team has said he was a braggart and a loudmouth, but no terrorist, before undercover government agents filled his head with fantasies of radical Islamic superstardom.
Either way, Mohamud was filmed in September 2010 making what he hoped would air as his final words to his parents, sister and the West before he planned to detonate a bomb in Portland later that year and flee the country.
“Living (in the U.S.) is a sin,” he cautioned other Muslims.
Addressing the West, he said, “As long as you threaten our security, your people will not remain safe.”
The video was shot at the behest of two undercover FBI agents posing as jihadis who worked Mohamud as the target of the sting for at least a month before the video was made. It was shown at the end of testimony Tuesday in Mohamud’s trial in Oregon federal court on terrorism charges.
Mohamud is accused of attempting to detonate a bomb at a Christmas tree lighting in Portland in November 2010. The bomb was a fake, supplied by the undercover agents.
It came after some frustration for Mohamud, who by late summer 2010, had told confidants that everyone around him was letting him down.
His parents had warned the FBI about his plans to fly to Yemen, a hotspot for al-Qaida recruitment. His friends, he felt, took Islam too casually. He said he even felt his own faith wasn’t sufficient to please God.
“I don’t feel like I have the high faith,” Mohamud said in a recording made without his knowledge.
Fueled by a desire to follow in the footsteps of another alleged terrorist who joined the mujahedeen in Afghanistan, Mohamud then began to describe a plan to detonate a bomb at the Christmas tree lighting in Portland. An agent, identified only under the pseudonym “Youssef,” testified Tuesday that, by the end of August 2010, he was convinced Mohamud was serious about carrying out a terrorism plot.
The agent said he kept close tabs on Mohamud.
“We didn’t want him to martyr himself early,” the agent said.
Mohamud had been contacted by two men who said they were members of al-Qaida, and he said that conversation helped him to feel his own religious calling. From there, he began plotting his attack, authorities said.
The men Mohamud spoke to were undercover FBI agents. Recordings of their conversations in hotels, in cars and near the square itself were played to the jury on Tuesday, with explanations from the undercover agent identified as “Youssef.”
Initially, Mohamud said he wanted to die in the car-bomb blast, a plan the agents talked him out of. But as his voice broke and he began to cry, Mohamud said he should have found a way to join a holy war against the West, the way his friend did.
“Allah saw sincerity in him that he didn’t see in us,” Mohamud said in the recording about a man he identified only as an Uzbek named Dawlat.
The undercover agent said he didn’t take Mohamud’s offer of martyrdom seriously until he began to propose specific elements of the alleged plot.
Led by questions from Assistant U.S. Attorney Ethan Knight, the agent said he repeatedly asked Mohamud whether he was willing to kill children.
“You’re going to see kids playing, ‘daddy, daddy,’ you’re going to push the button?” the agent asked Mohamud in one of the recordings.
Without hesitation, Mohamud replied.