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Defense Argues FBI Pressured Mohamud In Bomb Plot

Defense attorneys for Mohamed Mohamud finished presenting their case on Tuesday. Their final witnesses explored adolescent psychology and the terrorist mindset today. They aim to convince the jury Mohamud was subject to heavy pressure from FBI agents to take part in the bogus bomb plot that led to his arrest in 2010.

A courtroom sketch of Mohamed Mohamud, who was convicted for plotting to bomb Portland’s holiday tree-lighting ceremony in 2010.

A courtroom sketch of Mohamed Mohamud, who was convicted for plotting to bomb Portland’s holiday tree-lighting ceremony in 2010.

Sketch by Deborah Marble

Dr. Elizabeth Cauffman laid out research showing the disconnect between the intellectual capabilities of teenagers and their ability to make rational decisions.

Attorney Lisa Hay asked Cauffman if she was suggesting teenagers don’t know right from wrong.

“Five-year-olds know the difference between right and wrong,” Cauffman replied, but, she continued, that doesn’t prevent them from hitting a playmate who tries to take a toy. The difference she said, is the frontal lobe capacity that governs impulse control and emotional responses. Those functions, she showed, don’t fully come online until late adolescence, and in some cases as late as age 25.

Cauffman said that, after examining all the emails, audio, and videotapes of Mohamud interacting with two undercover agents, she felt the defendant exhibited numerous signs of immature emotional development. She said he failed to think through where a van loaded with explosives could park on a busy day in downtown Portland. She also cited Mohamud’s proposed cover story to use traveling abroad after the plot was complete. Mohamud told agents he’d pose as a rap artist.

She acknowledged on cross-examination she had not reviewed Mohamud’s writings for a jihadist magazine, written when he was 17 and 18.

Marc Sageman took the stand as the closing witness. A CIA veteran who directed mujahedeen operations in Afghanistan during the 1980s, he has degrees in psychiatry and sociology.

Sageman has developed a 65-point tool for assessing whether Islamic extremists are likely to turn to violent activity. He told the jury his research to design the tool discounted FBI sting operations, because while he’s been involved in FBI stings himself, he believes these methods influence the outcome of the operation.

Sageman further testified he believes that at the time Mohamud met with FBI undercover agents, he did not fit his criteria for developing into a potential terrorist threat. Although on the day the plot was to be enacted, Sageman said, Mohamud certainly fit the bill. The defense spent just three days presenting its case after the prosecution spent two weeks laying out its case.

April Baer is covering the Mohamud trial for OPB. You can reach her at

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