Bomb plot case may be harbinger

At a detention hearing, Antonio Martinez of Baltimore was ordered held pending trial.
At a detention hearing, Antonio Martinez of Baltimore was ordered held pending trial.
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By Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Baltimore man accused of plotting to blow up a military recruiting station was "grinning from ear to ear" and said "Allahu Akbar" as he prepared to detonate what he thought was a powerful bomb last week, federal prosecutors said Monday.

Antonio Martinez, 21, who recently converted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Hussain, is accused of trying to kill members of the military whom he saw as a threat to Muslims. The FBI learned of Martinez's intentions through an informant, joined the plot and supplied him with a fake car bomb that he tried to detonate, authorities said.

Prosecutors portrayed Martinez as a man who was determined to cause as much harm as possible and sees himself as a holy warrior. But defense attorney Joseph Balter said his client was "incapable" of carrying out an attack on his own, failed when he tried to recruit confederates to join him and was caught in a "government sting operation."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Christine Manuelian said that after his arrest, Martinez admitted his role in the bomb plot and said it was his idea. She said he told agents that he parked the sport-utility vehicle that contained the bomb close to the front of the recruiting center where he thought a blast would cause the most harm. She said he even admitted that local imams had tried to talk him out of an attack, saying it was a time for peace.

"He said he went through with the attack because he was doing it for the right cause," Manuelian said.

Balter said that Martinez, a former Prince George's County public school student who did construction work, might have talked about firearms or bombs but that there was no indication that he "had any ability to carry out any plan."

"Clearly, on the face of these charges is a very legitimate issue as to whether the government entrapped Mr. Hussain," Balter said. "They induced him to be involved in an act that was clearly the design of the government."

Arguments made in the detention hearing in U.S. District Court in Baltimore are a preview of what is to come as courts consider the FBI's increasing use of undercover agents who monitor extremists, pose as co-conspirators and sometimes provide the means to carry out an attack.

The FBI's tactic has been criticized by some Muslims, who accuse government agents of trying to entrap members of their community. Legal experts say that the strategy can be effective in securing more serious charges and that if the accused intended to carry out an attack and wasn't persuaded by the government, it is not entrapment.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. addressed the criticism last week, telling a Muslim group that those who allege government entrapment "simply do not have their facts straight." Holder defended the FBI, saying agents are working to protect Americans.

In Martinez's case, prosecutors said that it was Martinez's idea to target the recruiting center and that he brought up the idea of using a bomb. They said that he was given several opportunities to back out of the plan but that he chose to press forward.

In a video secretly taken of Martinez as he attempted to detonate the bomb, he appeared to be doing "an everyday task" and showed no remorse or nervousness, Manuelian said.

Balter said that Martinez never bought a weapon and that the people he sought to recruit to help him carry out an attack "blew him off immediately."

Martinez's mother, who attended the hearing, said she thought her son had been "brainwashed."

Magistrate Judge Susan K. Gauvey, who considered only whether Martinez could be released pending trial, ordered that he be held. She said the defense arguments about entrapment are "an issue for another day."

Manuelian said Martinez and the informant planned to video the explosion after he detonated the bomb from a site within eyeshot of the Catonsville, Md., recruiting station.

"We are not criminals," she said Martinez said into the camera. "We are mujaheddin."

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