Would-be Christmas tree bomber gets 30 years in prison

Mohamed Mohamud's intended target was a downtown Portland square one night after Thanksgiving 2010, where thousands of revelers watched the mayor light a towering Christmas tree. 

Multnomah County Sheriff's Office/AP/File
This file photo shows Mohamed Mohamud after he was arrested on suspicion of attempting to detonate a bomb at a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland, Ore., in 2010. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison Wednesday.

One thousand, four hundred and six days after he screamed "God is great" while police officers dragged him into a waiting van, a young Somali American was sentenced to 30 years in prison for plotting to detonate a bomb.

Mohamed Mohamud was arrested Nov. 26, 2010, after pressing a keypad button on a cellphone that he believed would trigger a massive truck bomb and kill people gathered for the annual holiday event in the West Coast city of Portland. But the bomb was a fake provided by FBI agents posing as al-Qaida recruiters.

 Prosecutors had sought a 40-year term for Mohamed Mohamud, 23, in the 2010 plot that actually was an FBI sting. But U.S. District Court Judge Garr King said Mohamud's youth and remorse for his actions helped lower his sentence.

Mohamud was 19 then, a fact a federal judge in Portland took into account when sentencing him Wednesday to three decades in prison. His attorneys asked for a prison on the West Coast, and pledged to appeal his sentence.

In their telling, Mohamud was a vulnerable, confused teenager, a prime target for the FBI sting. By playing on his Muslim faith, the undercover agents posing as jihadis lured him into a six-month plot that effectively brainwashed him: The Oregon State University freshman who entered the plot left it fully radicalized.

King disagreed with defense attorneys who made a last-gasp effort to portray Mohamud's actions as those of a confused teenager who just had his braces removed when first contacted by an FBI agent posing as a member of a terrorist cell.

When given the choice to participate in an internal, peaceful struggle, Mohamud instead declared he wanted to "become operational." He maintained that course even after being told he would see corpses and body parts.

Prosecutors had sought a 40-year term for Mohamud, now 23. But King said the defendant's youth and remorse for his actions helped lower his sentence.

King said he believes the actions of undercover FBI agents edged into "imperfect entrapment," the idea that while they didn't fully entrap Mohamud in a legal sense, they encouraged him to commit wrongdoing.

"This is a sad case," King said.

Mohamud and his parents spoke before he was sentenced.

"The things I said and did were terrible," Mohamud said. "The hardest thing is to go over the (undercover agents') tapes, to see myself, to hear what I was saying."

His mother, Mariam Barre, begged the judge for leniency.

"Give him another chance," she said through tears on the witness stand.

His father, Osman Barre, said he has watched his teenage son become an adult in prison and mature in the process. But King said Mohamud's youth aside, the sentence had to both punish him for his actions and serve as a warning for anyone planning similar acts.

FBI Director James Comey said Wednesday that King's remarks about "imperfect entrapment" will have no effect on the agency's sting operations.

Osman Barre was the first person to alert the FBI of his son's early leanings toward violent jihad, something he later said he regretted. The alert led the FBI to launch its sting operation.

Comey said Wednesday that parents in a similar situation ultimately have no other recourse, and he's unsure whether Mohamud's case would discourage them from coming forward.

"I just don't know what the alternative is," Comey said.

Jurors rejected Mohamud's entrapment defense at his January 2013 trial. The sentencing was pushed back a year after the government disclosed that warrantless overseas wiretaps helped make its case. The defense unsuccessfully sought a new trial.

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