GUY RAZ, host:

As we just heard, the defense attorney for Mohamed Osman Mohamud says his client was a victim of entrapment. Well, his is just the latest case in which the FBI has tried to walk a fine line between capturing a would-be terrorist, and enticing someone to commit a crime.

NPR's Dina Temple-Raston has that story.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: The FBI provided a van and the fake explosives for the Portland plot. If they hadn't, would Mohamed Osman Mohamud ever have tried to kill people at the Christmas tree lighting there? Thats the question at the heart of an entrapment defense.

The Supreme Court says suspects need to be quote, independently predisposed, unquote, to commit the crime for which they're arrested. That's what entrapment gets down to - someone having a choice and essentially, making the wrong one.

In this case, according to an FBI's affidavit, agents kept telling Mohamud that he didn't need to kill to be a good Muslim.

Mr. ERIC HOLDER (U.S. Attorney General): There were, as I said, a number of opportunities that the subject in this matter - the defendant in this matter was given to retreat and take a different path. He chose, at every step, to continue.

TEMPLE-RASTON: That's Attorney General Eric Holder.

Mr. HOLDER: This is an investigation that I have been familiar with throughout its course, and I am confident that there is no entrapment here; no entrapment claim will be found to be successful.

TEMPLE-RASTON: The FBI has had trouble with sting operations in the past. Remember the 2006 Liberty City case? Thats the one in which seven men from Miami's Liberty City neighborhood said they wanted to blow up Chicago's Sears Tower. The attack never got past the boasting and bravado stage. Prosecutors eventually convicted five of the men, but only after two mistrials. Ever since, the FBI has been sensitive to the risk of entrapment.

As for the entrapment defense, it hasn't been very successful in terrorism cases. There hasn't been even one acquittal on the grounds of entrapment since the 9/11 attacks.

Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News.

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