Opinion Brief

Was the Portland bomb plot entrapment?

Alleged jihadist Mohamed Osman Mohamud's failed bomb plot was largely guided by the FBI. Does that make him any less guilty?

The FBI says it caught a terrorist — preventing Somali-American Mohamed Osman Mohamud from killing scores of people at a Portland, Ore., Christmas tree–lighting ceremony on Nov. 26. Some civil libertarians are suggesting that the bureau, whose undercover agents provided the bomb, orchestrated the "attack" to chalk up a counter-terrorism win. Would Mohamud, 19, have acted if the FBI hadn't guided him — or even encouraged him — along the way? Does that make him any less guilty? (Watch an AP report about anti-Muslim backlash)

Sure smells like entrapment: This wouldn't be the first time the FBI "found some very young, impressionable, disaffected, hapless, aimless, inept loner," says Glenn Greenwald in Salon, then "entrapped" him by persuading him to join a terrorist plot they hatched. And given the money and support agents provided to Mohamud and their mysterious failure to record one key conversation, I wouldn't trust the FBI's version of what happened.
"The FBI successfully thwarts its own terrorist plot"

Entrapment hinges on intent: Mohamud might be "so incompetent that, left to his own devices, nothing would have happened," says Lewis and Clark Law School professor Tung Yin to The Portland Tribune. But "entrapment means someone harassed you into committing a crime you had no intent of committing," and Mohamud was apparently predisposed to killing lots of families. The FBI didn't break any laws by giving him a chance to try.
"Did the FBI trick bomb suspect?"

This was a win for America, not the FBI: According to Portland's Somali community, Mohamud's father warned the feds about his already "disaffected" and radicalized son two years ago, says Michael Meo in The Agonist. So calling this "entrapment is both weak and superficial." But so is crediting the "vigilance of our national police." We were lucky Mohamud's parents felt "welcome enough in the U.S. to sacrifice their own child."
"The Portland bomber"

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