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Oregon's would-be Christmas festival bomber denied new trial

By Teresa Carson

PORTLAND Ore. (Reuters) - A Somali-American man convicted of trying to blow up a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Oregon was denied a new trial on Tuesday by a federal judge who rejected the defendant's claims that his constitutional rights were violated by warrantless surveillance.

Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a naturalized U.S. citizen and former Oregon State University student, faces a possible life prison term for his conviction last year on a single charge of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction.

No date has been set for sentencing.

Mohamud was arrested shortly after attempting to use his mobile phone to remotely detonate an artificial car bomb planted near a Portland square that was crowded with thousands of people attending a ceremony the day after Thanksgiving in 2010.

No one was hurt, and authorities say the public was never in actual danger.

During a three-week trial in federal court, defense attorneys argued that overzealous law enforcement officers posing as al Qaeda militants invented a crime and entrapped their client.

But the jury agreed with the prosecution's argument that Mohamud, 19 years old at the time of the crime, was already radicalized and could have backed out of the bomb plot at any point.  

Mohamud's lawyers argued in court earlier this month that his constitutional rights were violated because investigators obtained evidence through warrantless interceptions of electronic communications between the defendant and foreigners who were under surveillance. 

In that hearing, one of Mohamud's federal public defenders, Lisa Hay, said it was as if the government had a warrant for a letter in a delivery truck, but "grabbed the whole truck" and examined all of it's contents.

Siding with the prosecution, U.S. District Judge Garr King in Portland wrote in a 56-page decision that he was "unpersuaded (that) incidental communications collected" in this way without a warrant violated Mohamud's rights.

The case comes at a time of increased public debate about government monitoring of electronic communications of Americans, in light of disclosures made by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden of U.S. surveillance activities.

Mohamud's public defenders declined to discuss the ruling, and federal prosecutors could not be reached for comment. 

“We are disappointed with the court's decision," American Civil Liberties Union attorney Alex Abdo said in a statement.

"To accept the court's reasoning is to grant the government effectively unfettered access to Americans' international calls and emails," Abdo said.

(Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Ken Wills)

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