BOSTON (CBS/AP) – A federal jury in Boston found a Sudbury man guilty Tuesday of conspiring to help al-Qaeda and plotting to kill U.S. soldiers in Iraq.
Tarek Mehanna, 29, was found guilty on four terror-related charges and three charges of lying to authorities.
He now faces life in prison. Sentencing is April 12.
The jury received the case Friday afternoon in U.S. District Court. They deliberated for about 10 hours.
WBZ-TV’s Karen Anderson reports
Prosecutors allege Mehanna and two friends conspired to go to Yemen so they could receive training at a terrorist camp with the intention of going on to Iraq to fight against U.S. soldiers there. Prosecutors say when they couldn’t find a camp, Mehanna returned home and began translating and distributing publications over the Internet to promote violent jihad.
He was arrested on October 21, 2009 in a case investigated by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.
Mehanna’s lawyers say he went to Yemen to look for religious schools, not to seek terrorist training, and his online activities were protected by the First Amendment.
Prosecutors focused on hundreds of online chats in which they said Mehanna and his friends talked about their desire to participate in jihad.
Mehanna’s lawyers told jurors that prosecutors were using scare tactics by portraying Mehanna as a would-be terrorist and were trying to punish him for his beliefs.
A federal judge instructed jurors that in order to find Mehanna guilty of conspiracy to provide material support to al-Qaeda, they must find that he worked “in coordination with or at the direction of” the terrorist organization.
Mehanna said “I love you all so much” to his family as he was led out of the courtroom by U.S. Marshals after the verdict was read.
His mother cried, yelled, and stomped her feet outside the court room. Mehanna’s younger brother tried to console her.
Mehanna’s attorney J.W. Carney, Jr. said they were “disappointed” with the verdict and they will appeal.
Mehanna’s father, Ahmed, a professor at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, was stunned.
“I can’t even think,” he said. “It was political.”
Carney said he was upset with the verdict and what he called the extraordinary leeway prosecutors had to present evidence the defense considered prejudicial, including references to al-Qaeda and the Sept. 11 attacks.
“The charges scare people. The charges scared us,” Carney said.
“The more that we looked at the evidence, the more we got to know our client, Tarek, the more we believed in his innocence.”
WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Doug Cope reports
U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz disputed that the prosecution’s evidence was inflammatory.
“The heart of the case is really this: Did Mr. Mehanna conspire to support terrorists, conspire to kill in a foreign country and then did he lie to federal investigators?” she said.
“Today a jury of his peers concluded that he did that.”
Boston College Law Professor George Brown refers to the verdict groundbreaking, but also says, with a debate over free speech in the case, the verdict is hardly the end.
“I think we can guarantee an appeal. I think this has Supreme Court written all over it,” Brown told WBZ NewsRadio 1030.
WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Ed Walsh talked to Professor Brown
WBZ-TV’s Karen Anderson contributed to this report.
You can follow her on Twitter at @karenreports.
(TM and © Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)