*Last week the nation’s newspapers and television news shows were abuzz with the story of Mohamed Osman Mohamud – the 19-year-old Somali-born American who was allegedly involved in a plot to detonate a car (or van) bomb during a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland, Oregon.
However, key aspects of the arrest and charges against Mohamud bother me tremendously and raise serious entrapment issues. First of all, there was no “plot.” The very statements from the FBI agents involved in the undercover operation reveal that it was the FBI which concocted the so-called plot. The agents then contacted the 19-year-old and convinced him to become part of the fictitious terrorist plan. The agents pretended they were Islamic militants who hated America.
Secondly, there was no real threat. The bomb provided by the agents was inert and posed absolutely no threat to public safety. On top of a dummy bomb, Mohamud was so tightly controlled by the agents that Portland FBI official Arthur Balizan admitted at a press conference, “[At] every turn, we denied him the ability to actually carry out the attack.”
In other words, what took place in Portland was not a terrorist plot; it was a setup which Mohamud was just stupid enough to fall into. Stated more simply, he was entrapped. I am not a lawyer. But I have been reliably told that one of the key elements of an entrapment defense is whether or not the alleged crime would have taken place had it not been for the actions of the undercover agents.
In this case the answer is a resounding “no!” Mohamud was not sitting around plotting a terrorist attack. He was perusing a career in Rap music. Exactly why the FBI singled him out is unclear. The only information provided to the public was that after being convinced the agents were Islamic militants, he told them he could get a gun and that he had written an article on Jihad (Holy Way) workout tips.
Indeed, the case smelled so much like a setup that Attorney General Eric Holder was forced at a press conference to deny that Mohamud had been a victim of illegal entrapment by the FBI.
Now, please understand me. If Mohamud actually agreed to participate in a terrorist plot in which he knew innocent men, women and children could have been killed, then he deserves to be punished.
But what took place in Portland was not the FBI uncovering a terrorist plot. It was the FBI convincing a tough-talking but gullible young man to participate in something which, as far as we know, had not even occurred to him until the FBI took advantage of his youth, his macho and his religious beliefs to set him up.
Law enforcement officers should solve crimes; not create them in order to make falsely sensational arrests.