Analyst again under fire at Tarek Mehanna trial
Helped research group post videos
By Milton J. Valencia | GLOBE STAFF DECEMBER 07, 2011
An analyst testifying for the prosecution in the trial of Tarek Mehanna acknowledged yesterday that he helped a research organization post on its website the same type of Al Qaeda-produced videos and documents that Mehanna is charged with posting in support of the terrorist network.
Evan Kohlmann, a terrorism analyst with Flashpoint Global Partners, was the last witness to testify for the government, and prosecutors are expected to rest their case this morning in US District Court in Boston.
Before his testimony concluded, Kohlmann came under repeated attack by a lawyer for Mehanna, who argued that the self-described analyst did not have the credentials to describe for jurors the history of Al Qaeda or the operations and strategy of the terror organization.
Kohlmann told prosecutors that “the purpose is to communicate to the general public, to policy makers, academics, law enforcement, to give them an idea of what’s going on with Al Qaeda and extremists.’’The lawyer, J.W. Carney Jr., questioned whether there was a difference between Mehanna’s posting of materials on Web forums and the posting of Al Qaeda statements and videos on the website for the Nine Eleven Finding Answers Foundation, for which Kohlmann worked as an investigator.
“We were very careful not to put too much information on the website, because we did not want to serve as a mouth piece for Al Qaeda,’’ he said
But under questioning by Carney, Kohlmann agreed that the website features the same type of materials Mehanna posted, including 37 videos “glorying’’ jihad, most produced by Al Qaeda. The videos were listed under a “Propaganda Videos’’ section.
The site also includes 103 statements by Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda’s current leader, and other representatives of the terror organization.
“The point is, if doing this type of thing is essential to getting Al Qaeda’s message out, the point is Al Qaeda’s message is getting out . . . through this website,’’ Carney argued.
In a legal setback related to rules of evidence, Carney was prohibited from showing jurors the website or the videos, which depict bombings and paramilitary training camps. Carney could not establish that those videos were posted at the same time that Mehanna was distributing similar videos.
Prosecutors had also argued that the posting of the materials on the research organization site was for educational purposes, and they alleged that Mehanna posted his materials to incite others to jihad. They accused Carney of seeking jury nullification by trying to water down the allegations against Mehanna.
Carney and the other members of the defense team are slated to begin presenting their case starting today, more than a month after the trial began, and are expected to present their own terrorism analysts.
Mehanna, a 29-year-old American who was living with his parents in Sudbury before his initial arrest in 2008, faces life in prison if convicted of charges of conspiring to support Al Qaeda and to kill in a foreign country and of lying to investigators.
Prosecutors say he traveled to Yemen with an associate seeking terrorism training, so that they could engage in jihad, or holy war, against US soldiers in Iraq. He failed to find a camp in Yemen, but returned to the United States, prosecutors said, with a new commitment to support Al Qaeda by promoting its ideology on the Internet. Prosecutors say Mehanna used his fluency in Arabic to translate documents into English, answering the group’s call for its followers to spread its information in the West.
Defense lawyers have called Mehanna a budding scholar who went to Yemen to further his studies of Arabic and Islamic law. They do not deny that he distributed controversial materials, but they argue he was exploring and expressing his own religious beliefs, protected by the First Amendment. Mehanna publicly spoke out against US foreign policy, they say.
Prosecutors had hoped to establish through Kohlmann’s testimony that Mehanna was following Al Qaeda’s strategy to have followers spread its ideology on the Internet, which he called serving in the terror organization’s “media wing.’’
Carney argued to Kohlmann, “Supporting Islam is different from supporting Al Qaeda, wouldn’t you agree?’’
Milton J. Valencia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.
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