PORTLAND, Ore. — A year ago, a tall, skinny teen named Mohamed Mohamud stepped out of an SUV just north of Portland’s Union Station. There, according to the FBI, the Somali-born American punched 10 digits into a cell phone believing it would ignite a vanload of explosives 16 blocks away—where a Christmas tree lighting ceremony was due to take place.
The 19-year-old became one of America’s accused “wannabombers.” The bomb he allegedly tried to ignite was a harmless fake rigged by the FBI and presented to him by undercover operatives posing as Islamic terrorists. Their suspect, charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, was part of a series of FBI terrorism stings since 9/11.
Government officials have praised the stings as a means of preventing terrorists from harming people on U.S. soil. In some cases, the FBI has supplied suspects with money, transportation and realistic weapons — including surface-to-air missiles.
Defense lawyers, including Mohamud’s, argue that the operations amount to illegal entrapment. Mohamud became the 14th and youngest suspect to mount an entrapment defense in one of the FBI’s stings. The 13 men who previously argued entrapment have been tried, found guilty and sent to prison for terms ranging from six years to life.
Mohamud’s trial is set for May 15.