CAMDEN, N.J. – Looking to discredit the government's main witness in the case of five men accused of planning an attack on the Army's Fort Dix, defense attorneys portrayed Mahmoud Omar as a pot-smoking criminal who encouraged others to commit crimes for his benefit.
On the stand Thursday, a sometimes teary-eyed Omar said he "never placed anyone in trouble" and wasn't sorry for his role in the case.
"If someone wants do some something wrong, I can't stop them," he said.
That response was quickly jumped on by defense attorney Rocco Cipparone, who was cross-examining the 39-year-old Egyptian for the second straight day.
"You just stated, 'I never got anybody in trouble,"' Cipparone said. Then he asked about a 2005 case in which Omar admitted to asking a woman to commit bank fraud to repay money she owed him.
"You counseled her to commit a crime for your benefit — so you could get paid the money she owed you. Yes or no?" Cipparone asked.
"I never intended to injure anyone, to hurt anyone," Omar answered.
Omar, who made more than 200 secret recordings of the five foreign-born men on trial, was not asked directly whether he believed they were seriously planning to kill soldiers in New Jersey at the Army's Fort Dix.
Earlier Thursday, Omar, who has pleaded guilty to bank fraud himself, admitted to smoking marijuana — including on Oct. 24, just a few days before he took the stand in the trial. He also complained that his nearly $95,000 in annual compensation by the FBI was inadequate.
Speaking mostly in Arabic and through an interpreter, Omar said he did not use any drugs during the 13 months the FBI had him spending time with the suspects. For most of the time, he said, he was on probation and was being tested regularly after being caught using marijuana once.
Cipparone, who represents suspect Mohamad Shnewer, raised the drug issue in an attempt to portray Omar as someone who would break the law even while working for law enforcement.
At one point, Omar said that when he used pot last month, it wasn't his idea. Rather, he said, he joined his nephew and friend as they smoked.
Cipparone asked: "Did you ever hear of the term 'Just say no?"'
Omar responded: "I wanted to smoke."
Cipparone retorted: "You do what you want to do, even when the FBI tells you not to, don't you?"
Omar only replied, "I smoke. I'm sorry, I smoke."
The suspects in the case — all Muslims in their 20s who lived for years in Cherry Hill — face charges of attempted murder and conspiracy to kill military personnel. Four of them are also charged with weapons offenses.
No attack was carried out before the men were arrested in May 2007.
Despite the accusations against them, Omar told jurors that he has no problem with the suspects.
"I have no personal grudge against any of them," he said.