“British investigator tells court of contacts with terrorists; Still no evidence presented to show Mehanna acted.”
Nov. 11, 2011
by Milton Valencia
Tarek Mehanna had made a name for himself on an Islamic Web forum frequented by radicals, and he had contacts with a member of a London terrorist ring with reputed ties to Al Qaeda, according to testimony by an investigator from Scotland Yard in Mehanna’s trial yesterday in US District Court in Boston.
One of the men arrested in a terrorism probe in London in 2005 had sent Mehanna regular messages through Tibyan Publications regarding the operation of the Tibyan site, according to the testimony. The site is an Islamic Web forum whose members often expressed extreme views.
At least two more people who had ties to the London ring wrote to Mehanna through the Tibyan site, one asking him to translate books and the other forwarding him a video that promoted violent jihad produced by Al Qaeda and including a logo of the terrorist organization, according to testimony by Richard Dearsley, an officer with the Metropolitan Police Service in London. The two men had seen some of Mehanna’s work translating other documents on Tibyan Publications.
One of those two men was Ehsanul Sadequee, an American citizen from Georgia who was sentenced to 17 years in prison in 2009 for supporting terrorists on the Internet. He was then 23.
The prosecution has presented no evidence that Mehanna ever translated the books or redistributed the video or that he even responded to the requests.
His defense lawyers have said he did not, and they argued that he could not be held accountable for something randomly sent to him or for associating with people on a Web forum. The lawyers have also pointed out that he was ultimately kicked off at least one forum because his views were seen as too moderate.
But prosecutors used the testimony yesterday in hope of showing that Mehanna had earned a reputation for helping to promote Al Qaeda’s message, so that he was contacted by Islamic extremists with ties to the terrorist organization’s media wing.
The London man arrested in the terrorism inquiry was convicted, along with two other men, in 2007 in London of inciting terrorism attacks for distributing documents and videos promoting jihad, at Al Qaeda’s behest. Among the documents found on their computers were instructions on constructing a suicide vest, and they spoke of the role their videos played in inciting terrorism, according to published reports of the convictions.
The three men, who had ties to Al Qaeda in Iraq and helped design a logo for the group, were the first people to be convicted in the United Kingdom of inciting terrorist murder via the Internet, according to the BBC.
Mehanna, 29, is an American citizen who was living with his parents in their Sudbury home and was about to leave for a new job in Saudi Arabia when he was first arrested, in 2008. He was later indicted on charges of conspiring to support terrorists, conspiring to kill in a foreign country, and lying to federal investigators.
Prosecutors say he was a young extremist who traveled to Yemen in 2004 seeking terrorism training. He failed to get it, but returned with a determination to serve in Al Qaeda’s media wing by translating and distributing documents and videos promoting the organization’s ideology on the Internet. Prosecutors say he was acting on the group’s call for its followers to spread its message in the West.
His defense lawyers have described him as a devoted Muslim who was concerned with the oppression of Muslims across the world and who was critical of US foreign policy in Iraq. They do not deny that he discussed and translated documents critical of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but say he was protected by his First Amendment rights to free speech, no matter how controversial the matter.
The defense attorneys also argue that he never worked in cooperation with or at the direction of any terrorist organization, that he was discussing his own beliefs. They also say he went to Yemen seeking schooling, to further his studies of Islamic law.
Milton J. Valencia can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.