PORTLAND, Ore. — Some residents of this famously liberal city are unnerved, not only by a plot to bomb an annual Christmas tree-lighting ceremony last week but also by the police tactics in the case.
They questioned whether federal agents crossed the line by training 19-year-old Somali-American Mohamed O. Mohamud to blow up a bomb, giving him $3,000 cash to rent an apartment and providing him with a fake bomb.
The FBI affidavit "was a picture painted to make the suspect sound like a dangerous terrorist," said Portland photographer Rich Burroughs. "I don't think it's clear at all that this person would have ever had access to even a fake bomb if not for the FBI."
Mohamud's defense lawyer said in court on Monday that agents groomed his client and timed his arrest for publicity's sake.
Public defender Stephen Sady focused on the FBI's failed attempt to record a first conversation between Mohamud and an FBI undercover operative. "In the cases involving potential entrapment, it's the initial meeting that matters," Sady said.
Attorney General Eric Holder defended the agents on Monday, rejecting entrapment accusations. Once the undercover operation began, Mohamud, who officials said had no formal ties to foreign terror groups, "chose at every step to continue" with the bombing plot, Holder said.
It is not unusual in Portland for actions by federal agents to be met with skepticism and criticism.
Portland was the first city in the nation to pull its officers from the FBI's terrorism task force in 2005. The move came after the FBI wrongfully arrested a Portland attorney as a suspect in the 2004 Madrid train bombings — a mistake that prompted an FBI apology.
In Mohamud's case, the FBI set up a sting operation to investigate him after receiving a tip.
Two undercover federal agents led Mohamud to believe he could detonate a bomb with a cell phone, helped him choose an apartment in Portland and instructed him to buy the equipment necessary to trigger the fake device.
Authorities say he parked a van full of explosives near the square on Friday night and was arrested shortly after he dialed a cell phone that he thought would blow up the bomb. He was charged with attempting to detonate a weapon of mass destruction.
While leaders in the Somali community in the U.S. condemned the plot, some, including a friend of Mohamud, were concerned about federal agents possibly luring him into breaking the law.
Mujahid El-Naser, 20, said he didn't believe Mohamud would have gotten involved in the plot without FBI encouragement. El-Naser, who has played basketball with Mohamud, said he never heard him express extremist views.
"If you talk with someone enough, they'll be convinced they need to do something," said El-Naser, who gathered outside the federal court building with a couple of dozen people before a Monday court hearing where Mohamud pleaded not guilty.
A defense of entrapment must prove that the government planted the idea of a criminal act in an innocent person's mind and brought about the crime so the government could prosecute it.