By Milton Valencia and Martin Finucane
November 15, 2011
A former friend of Tarek Mehanna told a jury in federal court yesterday that he brought the Sudbury native and two of his associates to Logan International Airport in 2004, so they could travel to Yemen to train in a terrorist camp.
Mehanna had believed “there was an obligation for Muslims to stand up and fight against the invasion in Iraq and US forces in Iraq,’’ Hassan Masood said, testifying yesterday in Mehanna’s terrorism trial in US District Court in Boston.
Masood added that the 29-year-old Mehanna and his two associates “found someone who was going to help them in Yemen. They wanted to go to Yemen to look for training camps there.’’
Masood was the second former associate of Mehanna to testify in his terrorism trial, and he told jurors that he often spoke of violent jihad and watched violent videos with Mehanna and his close friends. They opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and glorified the terrorists behind the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Masood said.
He said Mehanna conspired with Ahmad Abousamra and Kareem Abuzahra to travel to Yemen, though Abuzahra did not complete the trip.
But Masood acknowledged under questioning by Mehanna’s lawyers that he may not have spoken to Mehanna about the trip to Yemen, that his primary source of information was Abousamra and that he assumed his associates had the same intent in seeking terrorism training.
He agreed with the lawyers that Mehanna seemed to be more interested in his studies of Islamic law, that Mehanna once told him that he visited a school in Yemen, and that he often considered Abousamra’s opinions on certain issues to be extreme.
“For Tarek, it was always about what Islam required or Islam permitted or Islam forbids, right?’’ attorney J.W. Carney Jr. asked. Masood responded yes.
Mehanna, an American citizen who lived with his parents in Sudbury before his initial arrest in 2008, is the only one among his associates on trial for conspiring to support terrorists and conspiring to kill in a foreign country, as well as lying to investigators about his trip to Yemen.
Abuzahra is cooperating with authorities and is expected to testify against Mehanna.
Abousamra fled to Syria after he was first questioned by authorities more than five years ago.
Prosecutors say that Mehanna and Abousamra ultimately failed to find a terrorist camp in Yemen, but that Mehanna returned home with a newfound dedication to distribute materials and videos promoting violent jihad on the Internet, to help promote Al Qaeda’s ideology.
Mehanna’s defense lawyers agree that he translated materials and distributed them on the Internet, but say he was simply expressing his beliefs, a right protected by the First Amendment, no matter how controversial the matter.
At no point did he work in cooperation with or at the direction of any terrorist organization, they said, and they argue that Mehanna went to Yemen looking for places to study, to further educate himself on Islamic law and on the Arabic language.
Masood agreed with defense lawyers that Mehanna often cited the Koran and that his views on Islam were conservative and far less extreme than his associate Abousamra.
Masood is the son of Imam Muhammad Masood, the former spiritual leader of the Islamic Center of New England’s Sharon mosque, who returned voluntarily to his homeland of Pakistan after his conviction on visa fraud charges in 2008.
Hassan Masood also faces deportation, and Carney questioned whether he was providing his testimony in hope of receiving favorable treatment from the federal government. The two prosecutors who convicted his father, Aloke Chakravarty and Jeffrey Auerhahn, are also trying the case against Mehanna.
Hassan Masood said he expected no favorable treatment from the government for his testimony, though he acknowledged that he lied under oath during an immigration hearing so that he could benefit his status.
He also acknowledged that much of his communications with Mehanna’s circle of friends was through Abousamra, who was more extreme than their associates. He said Abousamra asked him to contact his uncle Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the founder of a terrorism organization in Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Toiba, so that Abousamra could undergo training. He did not.
He said Abousamra asked him to travel to Pakistan in 2002 to seek training, but that he did not go because of his muddy immigration status.
Masood acknowledged under Carney’s questioning that while Abousamra had extreme views, Mehanna often had scholarly texts with him, and that he cited Islamic law in their discussions.
Mehanna, for instance, opposed suicide bombings and called them a last resort, because of the potential to hurt innocent civilians. But he supported attacking military targets to defend Muslims, including US military targets on foreign soil, Masood said.
Masood said, “I kind of assumed that because they used to hang out with Ahmad that their beliefs were similar.’’
Milton J. Valencia can be reached at MValencia@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MiltonValencia.