Witness testifies he warned Tarek Mehanna he was under investigation
11/18/2011 5:49 PM
By Milton J. Valencia, Globe Staff
Daniel Maldonado told jurors in the federal terrorism trial of Tarek Mehanna today that he had warned Mehanna that he was under investigation and told Mehanna he should watch his words on the Internet.
Maldonado said that he had been questioned by Egyptian authorities in the months after he arrived in that country in November 2005 and that they wanted to know about Mehanna.
“They had your name, they asked where you work. They asked what my relationship was to you,” Maldonado, an American citizen serving a prison sentence for undergoing terrorism training in Somalia, told Mehanna in an Internet chat.
But Mehanna told Maldonado not to worry, that he understood why his name was mentioned, but that, “The problem is not with me, so to say.”
“Well, they are interested in you, because they want to know a lot about you,” Maldonado replied.
“Brother, between me and you, I swear, there is nothing,” Mehanna said.
In a seperate email, Mehanna said, “You know me, and you know I’m not that kind of person.”
The back-and-forth was discovered on Mehanna’s computer and was shown to jurors today in Mehanna’s high-profile terrorism trial in US District Court in Boston.
A resident of Sudbury who holds a doctorate from the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Mehanna is charged with conspiring to support terrorists, conspiring to kill in a foreign country, and lying to federal investigators.
Prosecutors say he traveled to Yemen with an associate, Ahmad Abousamra, seeking terrorism training. They failed to find a camp, but prosecutors said Mehanna returned with a determination to support Al Qaeda. He started to translate and distribute materials on the Internet promoting the terrorist organization’s ideology.
Mehanna has argued through his lawyers that he never worked with any terrorist organization, and says he traveled to Yemen solely to further his studies, because of the accessible schooling there. He was a budding scholar who cited classical texts, his lawyers said.
Mehanna does not deny distributing materials on the Internet, but says through his lawyers that he was expressing his own views, protected by his First Amendment right to free speech – no matter how controversial they were.
On Thursday, Maldonado, a New Hampshire native who lived in Massachusetts for a while, told jurors he met Mehanna a few years after he converted to Islam in 1999, and that he looked to Mehanna for guidance in his new religion. He said they often spoke of jihad, of wanting to defend Muslims overseas even if that meant fighting American troops, and he said he was under the understanding that Mehanna went to Yemen in 2004 to find a training camp.
But under the cross-examination of defense attorney Janice Bassil, Maldonado acknowledged that he had only begun telling authorities Mehanna went to Yemen in search of a terrorism camp in May 2011, long after he had already told a grand jury he knew nothing of the trip. By the time he had made the disclosure, four years after his arrest, he had been interviewed more than 20 times.
Maldonado acknowledged today that he did not know Mehanna went to Yemen until he returned, and that Mehanna told him nothing about the trip after that.
Bassil questioned whether Maldonado was shaping his testimony for prosecutors, so that he could honor a plea agreement he reached in 2007 that called for a 10-year prison sentence, rather than the life term he faced.
Bassil pointed out the hardships Maldonado faced after his arrest and the death of his wife from malaria in 2006, and he acknowledged that he longed to one day be with his three children. The children have been placed in the custody of his mother.
Maldonado once wrote that he pleaded guilty and was cooperating with authorities only to please “Uncle Sam.”
“Your only plan is to get out as fast as you can to be with your kids,” Bassil said, and Maldonado agreed.
Earlier today, jurors heard recordings of conversations Maldonado had with Mehanna after Maldonado first arrived in Somalia to support the militant movement, in December 2006.
“Come, come,” Maldonado had urged, telling Mehanna he was making “peanut butter and jelly,” a code for jihad.
Mehanna wanted to know about logistics. And he asked about customs in the country: could he pray five times a day without being bothered, could he find a wife, and did they have bookstores there?
Maldonado told him to take precautions: bring his associates, but travel separately. Dress like a tourist, and bring money.
“Don’t talk as if it’s shady,” Mehanna said.
“It’s nothing shady, don’t worry about it,” Maldonado replied.
He was arrested a month later.