PORTLAND — The trial of a man accused of plotting to blow up an Oregon Christmas-tree lighting ceremony has begun amid concerns about the security of FBI agents and their informants who are scheduled to testify.
The trial of Mohamed Mohamud started with jury selection on Thursday in Portland’s federal courthouse. It’s 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 in charge of 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 an 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.
Precipitated by the disastrous prosecution of a local attorney initially believed to be involved with the Madrid train bombings — a man later absolved and given a settlement — Portland’s mistrust of the FBI was also highlighted when it became the first major city to withdraw from an information-sharing task force that pairs local police with federal law enforcement.
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.”
Jury selection began with 85 people on Thursday, and is expected to last until at least the end of the week.