A Somali-American man will serve 30 years in prison for plotting to detonate a massive car bomb at a crowded 2010 Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland, Ore.
Mohamed Mohamud, 23, was arrested in November 2010 after repeatedly trying to detonate the bomb, which was parked amid thousands of people, including children.
Prosecutors asked that Mohamud be sentenced to 40 years, describing in detail his plot and his motivations. FBI agent in undercover operatives to monitor him after his father contacted law enforcement to express concern about Mohamud's radicalization, a prosecution sentencing memo said.
In writings and recordings, "Mohamud had made it clear he thought terrorism targeting Americans was 'a justified response to what he perceived as the killing of innocent Muslims in Afghanistan by the United States and its allies.'"
Defense attorneys suggested a 10-year sentence, arguing that Mohamud has taken responsibility for his actions, expressed remorse and tried to change his life.
Prosecutors challenged the sincerity of those actions, saying he continues to argue entrapment – a defense rejected by jurors who convicted him in January 2013. Mohamud, the sentencing memo says, "attempted to kill thousands of people in the name of his distorted and radical view of Islam."
Defense attorneys agreed, to some extent.
"There was no question that Mohamed was involved in Islamic extremism before any government contact," they wrote. But he didn't start planning the attack before undercover agents reached out to him and he would not have been able to build a bomb without their assistance.
But blowing up the lighting ceremony of a 70-foot Christmas tree was Mohamud's idea, and the undercover handlers repeatedly pressed him about the carnage that would result, including the deaths of so many children.
"I want whoever is attending that event to be, to leave either dead or injured," Mohamud said in a recorded conversation.
Despite such statements, and the defense acknowledgment of Mohamud's intent, some American Islamist groups, led by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), minimize the case, arguing the FBI concocted the case to create "a sensational story."
FBI agents were drawn to Mohamud after he wrote four articles for Jihad Recollections, an online magazine later tied to al-Qaida, and posted on other jihadi web sites. In addition, before he tried repeatedly to go to Yemen for jihad training.
At the tree lighting, Mohamud tried repeatedly to detonate an 1,800-pound bomb packed into a van. FBI agents rendered it inert, and arrested Mohamud after the failed attempts.
Prosecutors downplayed any statements of remorse and argued that should not lead to a shorter prison sentence: "There is simply no 'reliable' evidence in this case that defendant will pose less of a danger following a lengthy term of incarceration than other aspiring jihadists who have been intercepted, convicted, and sentenced..."