BOSTON (AP) — A Massachusetts man convicted last year of conspiring to help al-Qaida was sentenced Thursday to 17 1/2 years in prison.
WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Carl Stevens reports
Tarek Mehanna, 29, an American who grew up in the wealthy Boston suburb of Sudbury, was found guilty in December of traveling to Yemen to seek training in a terrorist camp with the intention of going on to Iraq to fight U.S. soldiers there.
Prosecutors said that when that plan failed, Mehanna returned to the United States and began translating and disseminating materials online promoting violent jihad.
He was sentenced on four terror-related charges and three counts of lying to authorities in U.S. District Court in Boston.
During his sentencing hearing, Mehanna said federal officials asked him to become an informant and told him he could end up being treated harshly if he didn’t do so.
He said he supports oppressed people around the world but said his case didn’t amount to terrorism.
When a prosecutor offered a rebuttal, Mehanna said, “You’re a liar. Sit down. You’re a liar.”
The judge then called a recess.
Mehanna had faced up to life in prison under federal sentencing guidelines.
Prosecutors asked for a 25-year prison sentence, saying he lived a “double life,” appearing as a “dutiful and scholarly young man” to his family and community, but in reality, he “was a proponent of violence as a means of achieving political goals.”
Prosecutors also recommended that after Mehanna complete his sentence, he be placed under supervised release for as long as he remains in the United States.
Defense lawyers sought a maximum sentence of 6 1/2 years.
They painted a far different picture of Mehanna, pointing out that he never did receive terrorist training and saying his trip to Yemen at the age of 21 was “entirely unsophisticated.”
During the trial, Mehanna’s attorneys portrayed him as an aspiring scholar of Islam who traveled to Yemen to look for religious schools, not to get terrorist training.
They said his translation and distribution of controversial publications was free speech protected by the First Amendment.
Prosecutors focused on hundreds of online chats on Mehanna’s computer in which they said he and his friends talked about their desire to participate in jihad, or holy war.
Several of those friends were called by prosecutors to testify against Mehanna, including one man who said he, Mehanna and a third friend tried to get terrorism training in Yemen so they could fight American soldiers in Iraq.
Mehanna’s lawyers told jurors prosecutors were using scare tactics by portraying Mehanna as a would-be terrorist and were trying to punish him for his beliefs.
The defense built its case on the testimony of a half-dozen terrorism experts.
Mehanna did not testify.
His lawyers acknowledged that Mehanna expressed admiration for Osama bin Laden but said he disagreed with bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders about many things, including the use of suicide bombers and the killing of civilians.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.