Jury selection begins in Portland car bomb case

AP News
Posted: Jan 11, 2013 4:55 AM

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Have you ever been the victim of a terrorist attack? Are you familiar with FBI terrorism sting operations? Were you among the thousands of people at a 2010 Oregon Christmas tree-lighting ceremony?

These were among the questions posed to more than 80 prospective jurors at the federal terrorism trial of Mohamed Mohamud, who is accused of trying to detonate a 1,800-pound bomb at the tree lighting in November 2010. The bomb was a fake, provided by undercover FBI agents.

The trial is expected to feature, at some point, the testimony of the two men whom Mohamud thought were his jihadist co-conspirators.

They were in fact undercover FBI agents tasked with leading the sting of Mohamud that led to his November 2010 arrest. When they testify, the two men will be allowed to wear disguises when they enter and leave the courthouse, and the public will have to watch their testimony via a closed-circuit video feed.

When informants connected to the case are on the stand, their faces will not be shown on closed-circuit TV but their voices will be heard.

The U.S. Department of Justice alleges Mohamud intended to kill thousands when he pushed a button on a cellphone that he thought would detonate a 1,800-pound bomb. The bomb was a fake, and Mohamud was arrested moments later, shouting "God is great" in Arabic, according to the FBI affidavit.

Mohamud's defense team has suggested in court documents that it will pursue an entrapment defense.

Thursday morning's jury selection took place in a city that has an unusual relationship with federal law enforcement.

A range of incidents set the tone immediately after 9/11, when the Portland Police Bureau refused a Justice Department directive to interview Middle Eastern immigrants, citing Oregon civil-rights protections.

Next, the case of Brandon Mayfield, an Oregon attorney erroneously linked to the 2004 Madrid train bombings after intense FBI surveillance yielded a false match to a fingerprint on a bag containing detonating devices.

The federal government formally apologized and reached a $2 million settlement with Mayfield. The next year, Portland cited civil rights concerns when it withdrew from an information-sharing task force that paired local police with the FBI, becoming the first major city to do so.

Most recently, a Muslim civil rights group demanded an investigation into the Portland FBI, who stopped two Oregon Muslims visiting the Middle East and questioned them about their religious beliefs.

Prospective jurors gave U.S. District Court Judge Garr King an earful Thursday morning as several of them said they could not be objective about the case.

"(Mohamud) would have had a very hard time doing this if it weren't for the FBI," one prospective male juror told King. "I don't agree with the prosecution, I don't agree with the way this was done."

That man was dismissed from jury duty, as was a woman who said she could see from the attorneys assembled that the prosecution had more power and money than Mohamud's defense team.

"I can see they have more resources than the defense," she said. "I have very strong ethical and philosophical feelings about this."

Others who complained about upcoming honeymoons, no-refund airfare to attend the presidential inauguration and a rabbi with two funerals scheduled for Friday were each told they had to stay.

Jury selection began with 85 people on Thursday, and is expected to last until at least the end of the week.