Lawyers: NYPD's Muslim spying violates 1985 pactKaren Greenberg in Oregon Live (The Oregonian), January 31, 2013
Silence fell across a Portland courtroom Thursday as U.S. District Judge Garr M. King read the verdict in the terrorism case of Mohamed Osman Mohamud, whose attempt to bomb the city's town square two years ago stunned the nation.
Jurors found the 21-year-old Somali American guilty of trying to detonate a weapon of mass destruction in Pioneer Courthouse Square -- a four-block walk from where they sat in the downtown courthouse.
Mohamud, whose lawyers argued that the FBI entrapped their client in a sophisticated sting that went too far, showed no reaction.
Wearing a sweater and slacks, he rose from his seat, looked back at his lawyers and waved as deputy U.S. marshals ushered him out of the courtroom. The proceeding took seven minutes.
"It's good to have closure on the case," Ethan D. Knight, the government's chief prosecutor, told a crush of reporters atop the steps of the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse.
"But an instance such as this is also sad in the sense that this defendant's conduct impacted a number of people, including his family," Knight said. "We believe that the evidence showed in court makes clear that this investigation and this prosecution rightfully addressed a significant threat and dangerous situation."
Mohamud's legal team said it will appeal the decision, returned after less than seven hours of deliberation. Chief defense lawyer Stephen R. Sady said the team will work until Mohamud's May 14 sentencing to show reasons he should receive a much-reduced punishment from the potential life prison term he faces.
"We're disappointed with the verdict," said Sady, who spoke briefly with his client after court. "We obviously thought he was entrapped."
Mohamud's conviction made him the ninth person to raise an entrapment defense after being snared in a post-9/11 FBI terrorism sting, said Karen J. Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School in New York.
All have been convicted, she said.
"This was a case in which the defendant had more of a chance than these others," Greenberg said. Mohamud's age -- he was 18 when he fell under FBI surveillance -- and Portland's well-known penchant for questioning authority -- as evidenced by the city's decision to pull out of the FBI's joint terrorism task force -- gave him a leg up on previous defendants, she said.
"I think there's a chance that one of these cases may end in an acquittal ... down the road," Greenberg said.
Trial testimony showed that Mohamud had written for an online jihadi magazine, traded emails with two accused terrorists and was in contact with another man who left the Northwest to fight against coalition troops in Afghanistan.
He was under watch by the FBI for nearly a year when agents got the "green light" to target him for investigation. The bureau sent in two undercover agents, posing as al-Qaida operatives "Youssef" and "Hussein," to befriend Mohamud and learn his intentions.
Most such "assessments," as the FBI calls them, end with no criminal charges.
But in his first face-to-face meeting with agents, on July 30, 2010, Mohamud expressed interest in taking part in a car bombing. Thus began an investigative courtship and sting that would end on the evening of Nov. 26, 2010.
On that afternoon, agents presented Mohamud with a fake but realistic looking fertilizer bomb secretly built by an FBI explosive technician. The massive device -- six 55-gallon drums connected to a cell-phone ignition system -- choked the cargo area of a van. A hidden camera captured Mohamud grinning at the device and declaring it "beautiful."
Later that night, from the passenger seat of an SUV parked about 1,000 yards from Pioneer Courthouse Square, Mohamud pressed the keypad of a cell phone to detonate the bomb. When nothing happened, one of the undercover FBI agents told him to get out and try it again.
When he did, a team of FBI agents rushed the van and arrested him.
During pre-trial hearings and the trial, which stretched from Jan. 10 until Thursday, Mohamud's lawyers appeared to be laying the grounds for a possible appeal.
One of the key points they are expected to raise is a ruling by the judge that prevented them from learning the true identities of "Youssef" and "Hussein," the star witnesses in the government's case. The judge said giving up their names and other identifying information could put the agents' lives at risk and potentially damage ongoing national security cases.
Deep cross-examination of witnesses in any criminal case is a right guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. But King's ruling prevented the defense from learning basic information about the agents' veracity or whether they had ever been disciplined.
The sentencing and appeal of the Mohamud case are likely to drag on for many months.
But for now, said Oregon U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall, people shocked by Mohamud's crime may find solace in the verdict.
"It's been a particularly difficult case for Mohamed Mohamud's community, for his family, for the Somali community, and we are hopeful that this will bring closure and healing to all of us here in Portland and to all of the families who attended the Christmas tree lighting," she said.
"We know that people have suffered pain and that they have deep feelings on both sides of this case. I have ultimate faith that this community will move forward in a positive direction."