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Baltimore bomb plot suspect makes court appearance

From Kelly Marshall Smoot, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The 21-year-old suspect will remain in custody, a judge rules
  • The suspect, a Muslim convert, says nothing during the hearing
  • Authorities accuse him of plotting to blow up a military recruiting center

Baltimore, Maryland (CNN) -- A Baltimore man arrested last week on charges of plotting to bomb a military recruiting station said nothing Monday as a federal judge ordered him to remain in custody.

Antonio Martinez, 21, appeared before U.S. District Judge Susan Gauvey for an hour-long preliminary hearing during which his lawyer argued federal authorities set up Martinez in a sting operation. Wearing a purple jumpsuit, Martinez did not speak, and Gauvey set the next hearing in the case for December 21.

A Muslim convert who goes by the name Muhammad Hussain, Martinez was arrested December 8 after attempting to detonate an inert device supplied to him by an undercover FBI agent, federal prosecutors said.

He is charged with attempting to kill federal officers and attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction against U.S. property. Rod Rosenstein, the U.S. attorney in Baltimore, said last week that Martinez could face up to life in prison if convicted.

At Monday's hearing, defense lawyer Joseph Balter called the case "a government sting operation" that induced his client "to be involved in an act that was clearly the design of the government."

According to a federal agent's affidavit in the case, Martinez was upset by U.S. forces killing Muslims overseas and plotted to blow up the Armed Forces Career Center in the Baltimore suburb of Catonsville, Maryland.

"He stated that because the military in the United States and other countries were fighting against Muslims, soldiers were legitimate targets," the affidavit stated.

The operation almost unraveled after the November 26 arrest of a Somali-born teenager in an Oregon case that also involved an undercover operation, with Martinez expressing concern about the undercover FBI agent to whom he had been introduced by a government informant, the affidavit said.

Martinez told the informant that he needed to know "who this brother is. ... I'm not falling for no b.s," according to the affidavit. He decided to go forward with the plot -- and when the undercover agent expressed similar concern two days later, Martinez told the informer, "We have to trust each other. ... We can't stop what we're doing," the affidavit said.

Rosenstein said last week that there was no evidence that Martinez "was acting as a part of any larger group."

The arrest followed a string of unsuccessful terror attempts, such as last year's alleged Christmas Day bombing attempt, the botched Times Square car bombing, and the Oregon case, in which federal prosecutors say the suspect attempted to blow up a Christmas tree-lighting in Portland.

Marcia Murphy, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Baltimore, said last week that there was no evidence tying the suspect to a string of recent shootings at other recruiting centers in the metropolitan Washington area.

In court papers, federal agents stated that Martinez "struck up an association" with the FBI informant in October after posting a late September message on Facebook that vowed, "The sword is cumming (sic) the reign of oppression is about 2 cease."

The informant contacted Martinez over Facebook, and Martinez told him "that he wanted to go to Pakistan or Afghanistan (a country that struggle for the sake of Allah)," according to the affidavit. But later, Martinez began talking about attacking a military recruiting center, according to the affidavit.

"He indicated that if the military continued to kill their Muslim brothers and sisters, they would need to expand their operation by killing U.S. Army personnel where they live. He stated that jihad is not only in Afghanistan or Pakistan, but also in the United States," the affidavit stated.

The informer offered to introduce Martinez to an Afghan "brother" -- actually an undercover FBI agent -- who could help, the affidavit said.

Martinez attempted to detonate the fake bomb outside the recruiting center after the undercover agent reported seeing soldiers inside, according to the affidavit.