U.S. Citizen Is Convicted in Plot to Support Al Qaeda
By ABBY GOODNOUGH
Published: December 20, 2011
BOSTON — An American citizen from an upscale suburb here was convicted on Tuesday of conspiring to support Al Qaeda and of other terrorism charges.
Federal prosecutors told the jury that Tarek Mehanna, 29, of Sudbury, traveled to Yemen in 2004 to train as a terrorist with the goal of attacking American soldiers in Iraq. Mr. Mehanna, a graduate of the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, failed to get the training, but then returned home and conspired to help Al Qaeda by promoting violent jihad on the Internet, prosecutors said.
The jury deliberated for about 10 hours, after hearing 31 days of testimony. It found Mr. Mehanna guilty on all charges, including conspiring to kill in a foreign country and lying to investigators, as well as conspiring to support terrorists. In the decade since the Sept. 11 attacks, the government has won many such convictions using a federal law that makes it a crime to provide “material support” to foreign terrorist groups.
Mr. Mehanna’s lawyer, J. W. Carney Jr., said he would appeal.
“The charges scare people,” he told reporters after the verdict was announced. “The charges scared us when we first saw them. But the more that we looked at the evidence, the more that we got to know our client Tarek, the more we believed in his innocence.”
During the trial, prosecutors said Mr. Mehanna considered himself part of Al Qaeda’s “media wing,” translating and posting materials online that glorified jihad. But the defense argued that Mr. Mehanna was well within his First Amendment rights in posting such content and that he was expressing his own views against American foreign policy, not working with Al Qaeda.
The defense also said Mr. Mehanna had gone to Yemen in 2004 to study Islamic law and Arabic, not to train as a terrorist.
In a statement Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts said the verdict “undermines” the First Amendment.
“Speech about even the most unpopular ideas serves as a safety valve for the expression of dissent,” the group said, “while government suppression of speech only drives ideas underground, where they cannot be openly debated or refuted.”