US teenager pleads not guilty to Christmas 'bomb plot'

Mohamed Osman Mohamud - police photo Mr Mohamud is a naturalised US citizen

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A Somali-born US teenager arrested in the state of Oregon after allegedly plotting to carry out a car bomb attack at a Christmas tree lighting ceremony has pleaded not guilty to attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction.

Mohammed Osman Mohamud, 19, was caught in an FBI sting operation on Friday, allegedly trying to blow up what was a fake bomb at the event in Portland.

If convicted, he faces life in prison.

He remains in custody and is expected to be tried in February.

Mr Mohamud's lawyers say he may have been led by government agents into committing a crime.

The bomb Mr Mohamud is alleged to have tried to detonate was a fake supplied by agents in a sting operation.

"The information released by the government raises significant concerns [about the] government manufacturing crime - or entrapment," said lawyer Stephen Sady.

"Government agents suggested key actions to this teenager, spent thousands of dollars on him, specified components, drove Mr Mohamud around, and were instrumental in setting up Friday's events."

Map of Oregon, US

Still the threat was very real, said US Attorney General Eric Holder.

"But for his interaction with the FBI, he might have come in contact with somebody who, in fact, would have made his plans tragically real."

E-mail exchange

According to court documents, an FBI undercover agent contacted Mr Mohamud, a naturalised US citizen, in June, pretending to be an associate of a contact in Pakistan he had exchanged e-mails with last year.

It is claimed that when an undercover agent made contact with the young man, he talked of bombing the Christmas tree ceremony.

Mr Mohamud, who lives in the town of Corvallis, drove a van to the ceremony and was arrested at around 1740 local time on Friday (0040 GMT Saturday), before the tree lighting occurred.

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