Scared and feeling out of options, the father of a Portland teenager called the FBI in 2009 and warned that his son was considering flying to Yemen and committing violent jihad, an FBI agent testified Tuesday.
That call and a subsequent meeting set off a 15-month investigation that culminated with the arrest of the teenager, Mohamed Mohamud, the FBI said. He is now 20 and charged with attempting to detonate a weapon of mass destruction at a Portland Christmas tree-lighting ceremony.
Mohamud called his father, Osman Barre, on the morning of Aug. 31, 2009, and said he had a ticket and a visa to Yemen, FBI agent Ryan Dwyer said at a hearing Tuesday.
A frantic Barre looked and couldn't find his son's passport. Repeated calls from Barre and Mohamud's mother proved fruitless until Mohamud finally answered his phone. His said his threat had been all talk, but he was serious about flying out of the country.
Barre had read about the recruitment and radicalization of Somali teenagers, and his son's pledge to fly to Yemen sealed his decision, Dwyer said. Barre picked up the phone and told the FBI that his son was technically an adult but still a child. He said Mohamud didn't know what he was doing.
"He was concerned for his son's safety," Dwyer said. "He stated he did not want to see his son brainwashed."
The hearing in U.S. District Court provided the first glimpse into what brought Mohamud to the FBI's attention. In his indictment, the FBI quoted Mohamud as saying he was "betrayed" by his family, but it left unclear how they decided to investigate him.
The hearing came as part of an effort by Mohamud's defense team to suppress evidence the FBI gathered from a separate Oregon State Police investigation into a rape accusation against Mohamud after a 2009 Halloween party.
The rape claim was dropped, but the FBI copied Mohamud's hard drive and the numbers in his cellphone. Mohamud's attorneys say obtaining that evidence violated Mohamud's rights. Prosecutors say they were already tracking Mohamud's activity and learned nothing from the hard drive, cellphone or state police interview.
Mohamud's trial is scheduled for October.
Barre was in court Tuesday but declined to comment. He has said he spoke with the FBI at least twice in 2009, and when his son sent him an emailed invitation to a school in Yemen, Barre forwarded that email to the FBI.
Barre came to the U.S. from Somalia in 1993. He brought his family to the country a year later.
From February to August 2009, Mohamud exchanged about 150 emails with the publisher of an al-Qaida magazine, federal documents state, adding that he contributed four articles to jihadist magazines, including "Jihad Recollections."
After Barre contacted the FBI, the agency began a complicated sting operation in which they persuaded Mohamud that he was meeting with radical jihadists _ men who were in fact FBI agents.
The alleged plot culminated at the Portland Christmas tree-lighting ceremony on Nov. 29, 2010. Mohamud is accused of using a loaned cellphone to dial a phone number that he thought would detonate explosives in a van near the tree.
There was no bomb, and Mohamud was taken into custody.