People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
FBI Sting Leads to Conviction of Mohamed Mohamud
Despite the fact that FBI agents and defense experts agreed that Somali-American teen Mohamed Mohamud would never have been able to carry out a plot to bomb Portland's
Pioneer Courthouse Square without the aid of FBI undercover agents, a jury convicted Mohamud on January 31. The charge was attempt to use a Weapon of Mass Destruction-- a fake car bomb that the FBI put together along with a detonator they handed Mohamud in November, 2010 (PPR #52). While the Oregonian wrote voluminous daily reports on the trial, several community members attending sent extensive notes to Portland Copwatch. Most of this article is derived from our own observations and those notes.
A combination of self-satisfied FBI personnel, a smarmy "terrorism expert," and two undercover FBI agents made up the bulk of the prosecution's case. After the verdict was rendered, Mohamud's defense team filed an appeal, in part because the informants' true identities were never revealed. (When they testified, they were "lightly disguised" and their faces digitally pixelated, though on a video of them driving Mohamud to the Square, one agent's face could briefly be seen.) The defense brought experts showing Mohamud was an easily manipulable teenager, and contrary to the prosecution's "expert" opinion, he did not possess many traits associated with terrorists.
Mohamud's father, Osman Barre, said that he originally called the FBI because he feared Mohamud was being "brainwashed" by people who would lure him into violent activities in Somalia or the Middle East. He testified to the (all-white) jury that he thought it was the FBI who brainwashed his son... but the judge ordered that remark struck from the record.
Special Agent Elvis Chan, the man responsible for recording the initial meeting between the undercover agents and Mohamud, claimed he wrote a report from notes he took while listening to the conversation as it happened, and he didn't realize that the recording device he used had failed until after he destroyed his notes. However, another FBI agent testified that he told Chan the day before the report was filed that the recorder had not worked; somehow, he claimed, it had been left on overnight and the batteries were drained. Coincidentally, about a week into the trial, reporter Trevor Aaronson, author of "The Terror Factory," spoke in Portland and discussed how his book shows multiple cases of FBI stings with similar missing recordings. Aaronson also noted how the FBI targets vulnerable people, sometimes people with mental health issues, for the stings. It's not clear whether Aaronson's research would have been admissible in the court proceedings.
The trial also shed light on a burning question: How did Mohamud find a parking space at Pioneer Square for the jam-packed holiday tree lighting? The answer: the FBI had a car parked in the space, and the Portland Police helped direct traffic so that Mohamud could take that space. More accurately, one of the undercovers parked the van, since Mohamud didn't have a proper driver's license, only a learner's permit.
Similarly, Mohamud had no idea how to: rent an apartment (nor the funds to afford one); build a bomb or buy its components; rent a storage unit to hide the van in; and, as Special Agent Brian Dwyer put it, it was unlikely he would have carried out an attack without any help.
The trial prompted concerns about what to write on email, look up on the internet, or keep on a computer. Everything in Mohamud's files was used as evidence against him even if, as the defense pointed out, it may have been downloaded inadvertently during a web search.
Mohamud faces up to life in prison, a horrible waste for a young man who could have turned his life around if he'd been counseled by elders at the mosque rather than led into a "crime" by the FBI. The appeal is pending; meanwhile the date for sentencing has been set for June.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.