PORTLAND, Ore. – There's no dispute that a 19-year-old Muslim college student tried to set off a car bomb at Portland's 2010 Christmas tree lighting ceremony, but how he reached that point is the crux of his trial that began in federal court this week.
A jury of seven men and nine women will decide whether this was a case of the U.S. government preventing the radicalization of a young Somali-American man, or was instead the FBI's coercion of an impressionable, hotheaded braggart into a plan he was otherwise incapable of carrying out.
Mohamed Mohamud's attorneys began to build their case during opening statements Friday, arguing that he was the victim of a sophisticated manipulation by undercover FBI agents.
"In America, we don't create crime," defense attorney Steve Sady said. "The FBI cannot create the very crime they intend to stop. And sometimes, it's just a matter of going too far."
Sady said Mohamud was an impressionable 18-year-old who talked big about carrying out terrorism plots but had neither the means nor the experience to follow through.
That changed, Sady said, when undercover FBI agents posing as jihadist co-conspirators provided Mohamud with a fake bomb in November 2010.
Prosecuting attorney Pam Holsinger said Mohamud was on the path to radicalization, and it was only the FBI's intervention that prevented him from committing terrorism in the U.S. or abroad.
Holsinger pointed to a picture of the estimated 25,000 people at the Christmas tree-lighting event.
"Little did they know that the defendant plotted and schemed for months to kill each and every one of them with a massive truck bomb," Holsinger said.
Given multiple chances to reconsider, Mohamud refused, Holsinger said, intent instead on being a "soldier" in a religious and cultural war with the West.
Even prominent radical Islamic contacts in the Middle East, including the American-born Samir Khan, had to admonish Mohamud against being too violent, Holsinger said.
"Even (Khan) had to tone down the radical and violent message," Holsinger said.
The trial continues Monday with evidence from the prosecution.