By Lauren Keiper
BOSTON (Reuters) – A jury on
Tuesday found a Massachusetts man guilty of conspiring to support al Qaeda by translating Arabic messages and traveling to Yemen for terrorism training.
Tarek Mehanna, 29, was found guilty on all seven counts against him and faces the possibility of life in prison.
The U.S. citizen was arrested in 2009 and charged with “providing and conspiring to provide material support to terrorists.” He was also charged with conspiracy to kill in a foreign country and lying to law enforcement officers.
Members of his defense team called themselves “extraordinarily disappointed” with the verdict and said they will appeal.
“The charges scare people. The charges scared us when we first saw them,” defense attorney J.W. Carney Jr said outside the federal courthouse.
Prosecutors said the defendant answered a call to action from Osama bin Laden to battle U.S. soldiers.
They said he traveled to Yemen in 2004 to seek terrorism training, but never received it, and had planned to travel to Iraq to fight U.S. troops.
They also said he translated videos and texts from Arabic to English and distributed them online to further al Qaeda’s cause.
Defense attorneys said Mehanna was merely trying to learn more about his Muslim heritage by studying Islamic law and translating classical texts. He traveled to Yemen to visit schools where he hoped to study, they said.
Carney said the jury was likely affected by the many references to the September 11, 2001, attacks and bin Laden, and he said prosecutors had been given extraordinary leeway to present “inflammatory, prejudicial evidence” at trial.
U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said after the verdict that the evidence had been relevant and supported the guilty verdicts.
“We do not prosecute people for expressing their beliefs,” she said. “We prosecute people for conduct.”
Sentencing was scheduled for April.
Mehanna openly opposed the U.S. military presence in Iraq and showed admiration for bin Laden’s efforts to expel foreign powers from Muslim countries, defense attorneys said. He never worked for al Qaeda or had direct contact with the group.
Among the trial witnesses was one of Mehanna’s friends, Daniel Maldonado, a New Hampshire man serving a 10-year sentence for obtaining al Qaeda military training.
The FBI released excerpts of blogs allegedly written by Mehanna about how martyrdom appealed to him, and transcripts of phone conversations between Mehanna and Maldonado.
Mehanna was born in Pennsylvania but grew up in Sudbury, a suburb west of Boston, and holds a doctorate degree from the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. (Additional reporting by Daniel Lovering; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst, Peter Bohan, Greg McCune and Xavier Briand)