PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Justice Department attorneys used emails between an Oregon man and suspected terrorists overseas to try to show he was already on the path to radicalization by the time the FBI made him the subject of a yearlong terrorism sting operation.
The assertion goes to the heart of a trial in which Mohamed Mohamud faces terrorism charges for allegedly trying to detonate a bomb in Portland in November 2010. The bomb was a fake supplied by the FBI.
Mohamud was 19 when he was arrested and his defense team has said the FBI entrapped him. Key to the defense is proving Mohamud had no predisposition to terrorism before the FBI got involved.
FBI agent Miltiadis Trousas attemped to establish that predisposition on Monday.
Trousas, who led the electronic side of the operation against the 21-year-old Somali-American, testified Monday that Mohamud showed a persistent eagerness to contact a man he thought was an al-Qaida recruiter in Yemen.
"(Pray) that I will be a martyr in the highest chambers of paradise," Mohamud wrote to a friend in an email Trousas quoted. Mohamud was already under surveillance because of his emails to an American-born al-Qaida recruiter.
"He's talking about martyrdom here," Trousas said.
"And why did that concern you," asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Ethan Knight.
"He might be doing something that would endanger people," Trousas replied.
Trousas said other communication by Mohamud, including a mention of receiving electronics, convinced the bureau that Mohamud was "already radicalized and dangerous."
Mohamud and a man the FBI says is a Saudi Arabian national sought by Interpol for terrorism charges began communicating in 2009. Trousas said that in the emails Mohamud and the Saudi used religious sites as codes for terrorist training camps in Yemen, with the Saudi entreating Mohamud to join him.
Further, Trousas said, "Mr. Mohamud was always mentioning the corruption of the West. That was another concern for us."
At the same time that he was playing himself up to be a potential jihadist and devout adherent to Sunni Islam, Mohamud was a college student at Oregon State University in Corvallis, drinking gin, smoking marijuana and going to frat parties, according to the defense.
His defense team has sought in opening statements last week and preliminary questions on Monday to portray Mohamud as a braggart who talked big but had no intention of carrying out a terrorism plot.
For instance, the message Mohamud sent discussing "receiving electronics" was in fact a response to a spam email from a dummy account. Mohamud thought it was an al-Qaida recruiter's covert attempt to contact him.
A second prong to the defense's argument for entrapment is that the FBI used sophisticated social science to manipulate Mohamud into choosing radicalization. Federal public defender Steve Sady pressed Trousas on his credentials, and focused on an FBI course he took called "Strategic Islamic Source Development."
The defense's cross-examination of Trousas was expected to resume Monday afternoon.