A Somali American who plotted to set off a powerful truck bomb during an annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony in downtown Portland, Ore., was sentenced Wednesday to 30 years in federal prison followed by a lifetime of government supervision.
Mohamed Osman Mohamud, 23, formerly of Corvallis, Ore., “never hesitated or wavered in his willingness to kill thousands” who had gathered to watch the ceremonial lighting of a 70-foot conifer on Nov. 26, 2010, according to the government’s sentencing memorandum.
After a 14-day jury trial, the alleged “Islamic extremist” was found guilty of “attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction” for trying to use a cellphone to remotely detonate what he thought was a bomb.
The 1,800-pound “bomb” that Mohamud tried to set off was a fake, designed by federal investigators to resemble an explosive. The men he thought were Al Qaeda operatives were actually undercover operatives with the FBI.
The U.S. attorney’s office asked U.S. District Judge Garr M. King to sentence Mohamud to 40 years behind bars. Defense attorneys asked for a 10-year sentence.
King, who presided over the trial, said Wednesday that Mohamud’s “intended crime was horrific.” Although the undercover agents gave him several options during their contact with the young man, King said, Mohamud “never once expressed a change of heart.”
According to a statement from the U.S. Justice Department, “King further noted that the Christmas tree ceremony was attended by up to 10,000 people, and that the defendant ‘wanted everyone to leave either dead or injured.’ King said his sentence was necessary in view of the seriousness of the crime and to serve as deterrence to others who might consider similar acts.”
Defense attorneys countered in sentencing documents that although Mohamud held “lawful but extremist views,” he never would have planned a “terrorist attack within the United States” had he not been come in contact with the undercover officers.
The trial was never about whether Mohamud tried to kill the families and other spectators gathered in Pioneer Courthouse Square, the defense said; he apologized for his actions and cooperated with authorities. Instead, it was about whether the government went too far, the defense said.
The former college student should be given leniency, defense attorney Stephen Sady said in court documents, because of his “lack of preparation and planning prior to contact [with government agents]; lack of capability or wherewithal to commit the offense without the government; and the full range of Mohamed’s vulnerabilities to government actions that encouraged the offense.”
“Mohamed was weeping when he expressed his anguish that he had gone from being a college student to being a terrorist,” Sady wrote. “He also admitted to his abuse of mind altering substances and said that he felt suicidal … that he ‘had no direction'; that the people he thought were al-Qaeda saved his life because ‘I finally felt like I belonged.’ ”
His client, Sady said, “clearly admired and adapted to the personas of the undercover agents, the agents repeatedly expressed their love and admiration for Mohamed, and the agents kept him busy with tasks he could accomplish, to their approving reactions.”
Federal prosecutors said the young man had planned the attack for several months. When he dialed the cellphone and the bomb did not go off, they said, he dialed it again. It did not go off, they argued in court documents, because the FBI “prevented the defendant from finding the terrorists he was looking for -- as he described it, ‘the right people’ -- to help him carry out his plot.”
Mohamud’s “murderous conduct,” they said, “was the culmination of a mindset that began to develop years before the commencement of the government’s investigation. Over that period, defendant became radicalized to such a startling degree that he was willing to commit chilling acts of violence in the name of Islamic extremism.”
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