Yemen trip called a search for schooling
Defense contends Al Qaeda had no camps there in ’04
By Milton J. Valencia | GLOBE STAFF DECEMBER 09, 2011
A witness for the defense team of accused terrorism supporter Tarek Mehanna testified in federal court yesterday that Al Qaeda had no significant presence and there were no training camps in Yemen around the time when Mehanna is accused of traveling to the Middle Eastern country to seek paramilitary training.
The defense lawyers sought to use the testimony of Gregory Johnsen, a doctoral candidate at Princeton University who was a Fulbright Fellow in Yemen from 2003 to 2004, to argue that Mehanna traveled to the country legitimately to seek schooling, as he has maintained.
Johnsen, whose research has focused on Al Qaeda in Yemen, agreed with defense lawyers that Yemen is respected worldwide for its schools of Islamic jurisprudence and for teaching a pure form of Arabic. He also said the three schools Mehanna says he attended have philosophies that are odds with Al Qaeda.
The leader of one of the schools “was diametrically opposed to Osama bin Laden,’’ Johnsen told jurors in US District Court in Boston.
“This is a place that attracts students from all over the world, particularly the Islamic world,’’ he said.
Mehanna, 29, a US citizen from Sudbury, faces life in prison if convicted on charges of conspiring to support terrorists and to kill in a foreign country and of lying to investigators.
Prosecutors say he went to Yemen in search of training so he could carry out jihad, or holy war, in support of Al Qaeda against US soldiers in Iraq. He failed to find a camp and returned to the United States.
Mehanna is also said to have supported Al Qaeda by translating the group’s documents into English and by distributing them on the Internet, to promote its ideology.
Defense lawyers say that Mehanna had the First Amendment right to distribute the information. They contend that he was expressing his own beliefs against US foreign policy and in defense of Muslims and that he never worked in partnership with any terrorist organization. The documents he distributed were in some cases based on citations of the Koran, they said.
They also maintain that while one of Mehanna’s associates did seek terrorism training in Yemen and even traveled to Iraq, their client sought schools and returned to the United States after two weeks.
The associate, Ahmad Abousamra, was also charged but fled to Syria after he was first questioned by the FBI in 2006. Mehanna, his lawyers argued, has never denied traveling to Yemen.
Prosecutors had argued through a cross-examination of Johnsen that even though Yemen’s government pushed Al Qaeda out of the country after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, factions of the organization remained. They also cited the history of the terrorist network within the country and said Al Qaeda is once again active there.
Milton J. Valencia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter@miltonvalencia.
via Yemen trip called a search for schooling – Metro – The Boston Globe.