Defense says Mehanna evolved from immaturity
Adds suspect was immature radical
By Milton J. Valencia | GLOBE STAFF DECEMBER 02, 2011
A lawyer for Tarek Mehanna sought to establish yesterday that he grew from an immature radical into a budding scholar who was passionate about his religion but never went as far as endorsing Al Qaeda, as prosecutors contend.
The lawyer introduced as evidence in US District Court in Boston poems that a 20-year-old Mehanna wrote to friends in 2001 describing American servicemen and President George W. Bush as “gay.’’
“We’re American soldiers and we’re gay, and if you offer us women we’ll say no way,’’ Mehanna had written, according to the evidence introduced at his terrorism trial yesterday by his attorney, J.W. Carney Jr.
“This is kind of an immature poem, isn’t it?’’ Carney asked a witness in the case, Kareem Abuzahra, who received the poem nine years ago. “Do you think this is something that might appear in the New York Review of Books, maybe the New Yorker?’’
Carney sought to show that Mehanna evolved from his immaturity into a young, committed student who cited classical texts and Islamic laws whenever making personal decisions or commenting on the definition of jihad, or holy war.
He opposed the concept that Americans could be targeted with violence because they pay taxes to their government, for instance, and his contention was that suicide bombings could only be used as a last resort in military action, Carney argued through Abuzahra’s testimony.
Mehanna’s writings, Carney pointed out, focused, as he grew older, on the definition of willpower and other emotions, and one was titled, “Anger: 10 Ways to Defeat it.’’
“I’ve definitely gained a lot of wisdom,’’ Mehanna had told Abuzahra in 2007, after his writings and his travels started to fall under the suspicions of the FBI, according to a recording of the two men that was played for jurors.
Mehanna, 29, an American citizen who was living with his parents in Sudbury before his initial arrest in 2009, faces life in prison if convicted of charges of conspiring to support terrorists, to kill in a foreign country, and for lying to investigators.
Prosecutors say he used his knowledge of Arabic to translate documents promoting Al Qaeda’s ideology and distribute them on the Internet, answering the terrorist network’s call to spread its message in the West.
He is also accused of traveling to Yemen in 2004 in search of terrorism training, so that he could carry out jihad against US servicemen in Iraq, part of his opposition to US foreign policy in the Muslim country.
For three days, Abuzahra, a former friend of Mehanna, described for jurors a close circle of friends who glorified jihad and spoke of suicide bombings. Abuzahra said he had planned to travel with Mehanna to Yemen – he even paid for their tickets – but he returned during a layover, after he was told his father was ill.
Abuzahra, a father of two from Lynnfield, cooperated with authorities and agreed to testify against Mehanna under the prosecution’s promise of immunity.
A third man, who allegedly traveled with Mehanna to Yemen and then went on in search of training in Iraq, was also charged. The man, Ahmad Abousamra, fled to Syria after he was first questioned by the FBI in 2006.
Defense lawyers acknowledge that Mehanna distributed controversial material, but say he was expressing his own, constitutionally protected beliefs. They have maintained that Mehanna traveled to Yemen in search of schools, to further his studies of Islamic law and the Arabic language. They say he cannot be held accountable for whatever Abousamra searched for in Iraq.
Carney argued through Abuzahra’s testimony yesterday that the witness had worn a wire for the FBI, in support of investigators. And yet “Tarek never confirmed for you that he had gone to Yemen to seek military training to fight, did he?’’ Carney asked, to which Abuzahra reluctantly agreed.
Carney also played recordings of a conversation Mehanna had with Abuzahra in January 2007, discussing the trip to Yemen and how it had come under FBI scrutiny. Mehanna had said he had learned from his trip to the country, and he would do it again, despite his new knowledge. He did not say what the purpose of the trip was. But he added that he had been working to debate extremists who frequented a web forum known for having radical posts.
Milton J. Valencia can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.