Terror suspect ordered held until trial

New details of bomb plot revealed; defense attorney calls case entrapment

December 14, 2010|By Tricia Bishop, The Baltimore Sun

Antonio Martinez was "grinning from ear to ear" on the day he expected to kill U.S. soldiers with a car bomb, and he fantasized about martyrdom well before he converted to Islam and began plotting the attack last year, a prosecutor said Monday.

His lawyer, meanwhile, contended that the alleged jihadist plot to bomb a military recruitment center in Catonsville was concocted purely by federal agents, who "induced" the Woodlawn man to participate in what amounted to a clear case of entrapment.

Martinez, who appeared at a detention hearing, confessed to plotting the attack after it was foiled Dec. 8 by investigators posing as accomplices, prosecutor Christine Manuelian said in court. Manuelian asked that Martinez, 21, be jailed pending trial, describing him as constantly on the move, with "tenuous" community ties and a "strained relationship with his mother."

U.S. District Magistrate Judge Susan K. Gauvey complied, saying that the "seriousness" of the charges against him "indicate that [he would] be a danger to the community."

Martinez, who prefers to be known as Muhammad Hussain, was arrested last week after he tried to detonate a phony vehicle bomb supplied by the FBI, according to court records.

Martinez appeared in Baltimore's U.S. District Court wearing a jail-issued maroon jumpsuit and white sneakers. A woman who identified herself as his mother sat in the gallery, along with a female family friend, who said no one knew him by the name "Muhammad."

"This is not Tony," Martinez's mother said after the hearing, adding that she "had no idea" about the alleged plot and was shocked by the charges.

"I don't believe it at all," she said. "I think he was brainwashed."

Manuelian said during the hearing that Martinez had nurtured violent fantasies before.

In a May 2009 journal entry, contained in a notebook alongside biblical quotations and insurgent musings, Martinez said he admired a samurai warrior who gave his life in battle, Manuelian said.

"Oh, how I wish for the same fate, to be remembered forever as a fearless warrior," he is said to have written.

Court records describe Martinez as obsessed with dying "in the cause of Allah" through jihad, which is often defined in the West as a holy war.

He posted statements on Facebook about a sword ending "the reign of oppression" and hating "any 1 who opposes ALLAH," according to records, and later told an FBI informant that he wanted to attack military installations.

According to court records, Martinez planned to shoot up the military recruiting center, but an undercover FBI agent said he could accomplish more with a bomb "both here and overseas" and eventually supplied Martinez with a vehicle filled with dummy explosives.

A video camera captured Martinez on the day of the attempted bombing, Manuelian said, and shows him opening the back of an SUV to arm the device inside by attaching certain wires.

In the video, he drives the vehicle to the front of the Armed Forces Career Center and parks it, then gets into a vehicle with the informant, she said, adding later that he showed "no indication of any remorse, concerns, [or] any nervousness that he is about to go and kill people."

Martinez and the informant then move to a predetermined viewing spot and Martinez takes out the detonation cell phone and places the two required calls, Manuelian said.

When nothing happens, he turns to the informant, who was also filming the event, and makes a statement: "We are one of those who wage war. … We are not criminals," he allegedly said. "There will be no peace for oppressors, you will feel our bullets."

After he was taken into custody by authorities, Manuelian said, Martinez claimed responsibility for the bombing. But his attorney, Deputy U.S. Public Defender Joseph A. Balter, said it was the government's idea and that Martinez never could have carried it out on his own.

"He didn't even know how to drive a car," Balter said. "All of this activity was purely the creation of the government."

Balter contended that federal agents "induced [Martinez] to be involved."

Balter also questioned why certain conversations with Martinez were not recorded, and whether the informant had motivation to lie. The man had worked with the FBI before.

"We don't know … how desperate that informant might have been to turn this investigation into something it is not," Balter said, calling the sting "a cookie-cutter arrangement that the FBI uses."

Speaking at the annual Muslim Advocates' dinner in San Francisco on Friday, U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder defended the sting tactic as an "essential law enforcement tool."

"Those who characterize the FBI's activities… as 'entrapment' simply do not have their facts straight, or do not have a full understanding of the law," Holder said. He was referring specifically to the case of Mohamed Osman Mohamud in Portland, Ore., who is accused of trying to blow up a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony last month with another phony bomb supplied by the FBI.

That case and the one against Martinez have renewed concerns for American Muslims, who fear a backlash because so-called fringe extremists are using religion to justify terrorism.

One person Martinez attempted to recruit tried to talk him out of it and "refused to participate," FBI records claim, "telling Martinez that what he wanted to do was wrong ideologically, would cause harm to Muslims and probably would result in Martinez getting caught."

If convicted on the charges, Martinez could receive a maximum of life in prison, plus 20 years.

tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

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