We don't know whether the FBI actually prevented Mohamed Osman Mohamud from detonating a bomb in downtown Portland last Friday.
But we're pretty skeptical of the notion that the desire to kill people who turned out for the city's Christmas tree-lighting ceremony originated with the federal agency rather than with Mohamud.
Yet that seems to be the implication of the strategy that Mohamud's lawyers unveiled Monday.
His public defender, Steven T. Wax, told reporters that the defense team is "looking into the question of entrapment."
The basic premise here is that Mohamud, a 19-year-old from Corvallis,
would not have considered setting off a bomb if he hadn't come to the
attention of FBI undercover agents. Those operatives, who met with
Mohamud many times over the past six months, "groomed" him to be a
terrorist, according to his defenders.
The FBI agents did give Mohamud the fake bomb that he allegedly believed he could detonate remotely with a cell phone.
But it's absurd to claim that the agency also planted in Mohamud's mind
the hatred that would compel him to dial the key number on that phone.
Mohamud's lawyers want us to believe that their client was incapable of carrying out the plan without the FBI's "help."
The gist of this claim is that Mohamud's intent - his motive, in
essence - is moot because he lacked the ability to put it into practice.
This makes for a compelling legal tussle.
But arguing the law in a secure courtroom is a vastly different matter
than trying to protect thousands of people who gather in the bustling
center of a major American city.
The latter is the FBI's task. And the agency, based on what we've learned so far, did a fine job in the Mohamud case.
The information that's been made public strongly suggests that Mohamud was quite willing to kill people without any assistance.
Sure, FBI officials could have concluded that Mohamud was merely a
disgruntled young man who talked tough but was not really a threat.
We're awfully glad the agency treated Mohamud rather more seriously.
We doubt the people who are chastising the FBI now would have forgiven
the agency had Mohamud walked into Pioneer Courthouse Square Friday
evening with a gun and a backpack full of ammunition.
The FBI's work, unfortunately, is not finished.
The agency is also investigating a Sunday arson fire at the Corvallis mosque where Mohamud has worshipped.
We're confident the FBI will handle this job with the same diligence it showed in assembling its case against Mohamud.
Both acts are indefensible.
And the public must be protected from all those who believe that their
cause is so righteous that it justifies the slaughter of innocent