Boston: A US man was convicted on Tuesday of conspiring to help al-Qaeda and plotting to kill US soldiers in Iraq. Tarek Mehanna faced four terror-related charges and three charges of lying to authorities. A federal jury in Massachusetts convicted him of all counts.
Prosecutors said Mehanna and two friends conspired to go to Yemen so they could receive training at a terrorist camp with the intention of going to Iraq to fight against US soldiers there. Prosecutors said when they couldn't find a camp, Mehanna returned home and began to see himself as part of the al-Qaeda "media wing," translating and distributing publications to promote violent jihad.
Mehanna's lawyers portrayed him as an aspiring scholar of Islam who travelled 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 focussed 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 did not testify. His lawyers acknowledged that he expressed admiration for Osama bin Laden, but said he disagreed with bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders about many things, including the use of suicide bombers and the killing of civilians.
Jurors began deliberating Friday. In his instructions to them, US District Judge George O'Toole Jr told 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 organisation. He said independent advocacy on behalf of the organisation is not a violation of the law.