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FBI: Portland bomb-plot suspect wanted to be a soldier in religious war with West

Prosecutors opened Friday the federal Christmas tree-lighting ceremony terrorism trial of Mohamed Mohamud by telling jurors the defendant was a calculating jihadist who was excited to dial a cell phone number he thought would set off an 1,800-pound bomb packed into a van parked near Pioneer Courthouse Square on a chilly Friday evening in November 2010.

Mohamud's attorney, Steve Sady, told the juror that his client was set up by undercover FBI agents, laying a case for an entrapment defense.

Sady said the FBI can't create crimes they intend to stop.

"It's a matter of going too far," Sady said.

Opening statements began Friday afternoon, after a day-and-a-half of jury selection. The jury of seven men and nine women includes four alternates.

Mohamud was a 19-year-old college student who was studying and partying too much, claimed Sady, and was not plotting a violent attack.

"You will see Mohamud doing bad things," said Sady, who emphasized to jurors that what is important is what lead him to that point.

Sady said he would not dispute there was a fake bomb, and that Mohamud pushed the button believing an explosion would occur.

"I won't dispute he wrote and spoke of jihad," Sady said.

"You may be offended and disgusted by what you see," said Sady, who described Mohamud as "all talk," and just a vulnerable teenager who was not planning an attack until the FBI stepped in encouraging Mohamud to act.

FBI agents called Mohamud "an ideal candidate for intervention" according to Sady, and began targeting him, encouraging him to commit a violent crime.

Mohamud is charged with attempting to ignite a weapon of mass destruction. He faces the possibility of life in prison if convicted.

Rationalizing violence

Prosecutor Pam Holsinger opened by showing jurors a picture of the Christmas tree-lighting ceremony at Pioneer Courthouse Square on Nov. 26, 2010, with thousands of people surrounding the tree.

Holsinger also showed jurors the cell phone Mohamud used to try to detonate what he thought was a car bomb. She then told jurors they would see evidence proving that Mohamud's mindset, before he met FBI agents in June 2009, was already on the path of radical behavior.

Evidence would include Mohamud's published articles on extremist website "Jihad Recollections," his connection to Al Qaeda terrorists, and his own recorded statement saying why he felt violence was rationalized, said Holsinger.

Sady, meanwhile, said the FBI's failure to record the first meeting between undercover agents and Mohamud shows their "critical failure."

Holsinger admitted the FBI tried to record the meeting, but the batteries on the recorder failed.

When FBI agents met with Mohamud, he had already planned the location and time of the attack and, according to Holsinger, the more Mohamud got involved in the plan, the more excited he became.

Agents worked hard to ensure he did not find anyone to help him with his plan, Holsinger said.

Mohamud was given many chances to reconsider the bomb plot according to undercover agents, but insisted he wanted to be a "soldier" in a religious war with the West.

Holsinger said Mohamud's mentor was radical Islam extremist Samir Kahn, who ran the website where Mohamud's articles were published.

Expert witnesses

The prosecution beings presenting evidence Monday in the trial that is expected to take at least three weeks. Prosecutors plan to call nearly two dozen witnesses to bolster their case, including Evan Kohlmann, one of the world's top experts on Islamic terrorism. Kohlmann has been an expert witness in 24 other terrorism cases brought by federal agents.

Defense attorneys plan to call about a half-dozen witnesses, including terrorism expert Marc Sageman, who will talk about the difference between the potential for violence and the predisposition to violence.

Also, defense attorneys will call social psychology expert Fathali Massoud-Moghaddam, who will discuss Mohamud's possible entrapment by federal agents.