FBI says Massachusetts man sought terrorist training, plotted attacks

A 27-year-old Massachusetts man, Tarek Mehanna, has been charged with conspiring with others to carry out terror attacks against shoppers in U.S. malls and against U.S. military in Iraq, federal authorities say.
By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Massachusetts man has been arrested on a charge of conspiring to support terrorists by seeking training from Islamic extremist fighters overseas, federal authorities said Wednesday.

Tarek Mehanna, 27, of Sudbury, a small town west of Boston, allegedly conspired from 2001 to May 2008 with Ahmad Abousamra and others to carry out attacks abroad, including on U.S. soldiers in Iraq, the Justice Department said.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Leo Sorokin ordered Mehanna held pending an Oct. 30 hearing. Outside the courtroom, Ahmed Mehanna, the defendant's father, told reporters he did not believe the accusations.

"This really, really is a show," said the elder Mehanna, a professor at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, from which his son graduated last year.

An FBI agent alleged in a complaint affidavit that Tarek Mehanna, Abousamra and an associate traveled to the Middle East in February 2004 seeking training at a terrorist camp in Yemen, and that Abousamra made two similar trips to Pakistan in 2002. The men were unsuccessful, however, and the associate became a government informant, Special Agent Heidi L. Williams wrote.

Abousamra allegedly told the informant that the Taliban and Lashkar-i-Taiba, a Pakistan-based militant group, turned him away because he lacked experience and is an Arab. Abousamra left the United States for Syria in 2006 to visit his wife and has not returned, according to the court documents.

The group also allegedly talked several times "about obtaining automatic weapons and randomly shooting people in a shopping mall," but abandoned the plan because they could obtain only handguns, Williams wrote. The men were inspired by the Washington area sniper attacks, she wrote.

Mehanna and the co-conspirators talked once or twice about assassinating two U.S. executive branch officials, according to the court documents.

Mehanna was not charged in connection with the alleged domestic plots.

In January, Mehanna was indicted for allegedly lying to investigators about the whereabouts of Daniel J. Maldonado, the first American to be charged with a crime for training with al-Qaeda in Somalia. Prosecutors allege that Mehanna lied when he said Maldonado, a Muslim convert from Boston who was captured in Kenya and is now serving a 10-year prison sentence in the United States, was in Egypt.

Maldonado allegedly told Mehanna that he was in "culinary school" making "peanut butter and jelly," which authorities said was code for training with Islamic extremists in Somalia.

Mehanna's attorney, J.W. Carney Jr., said the government charged Mehanna only after failing to persuade him to become a spy and because he was preparing to leave for Saudi Arabia to take a job. Mehanna, a U.S.-born citizen, pleaded not guilty to that charge and was released on bail.

If convicted on the material support charge, Mehanna faces up to 15 years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine. The earlier charge carries a penalty of up to eight years in prison.

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