Tarek Mehanna, a Massachusetts pharmacy-school graduate convicted of conspiring to give material support to al-Qaeda, was sentenced to 17 1/2 years in prison today after calling a prosecutor a liar in court.
U.S. District Judge George O’Toole imposed the sentence in Boston, where Mehanna was convicted by a jury in December. Prosecutors said he translated terrorist materials from Arabic into English, including a manual titled “39 Ways to Serve and Participate in Jihad.”
“I am frankly concerned by the defendant’s apparent lack of remorse,” the judge said. “His position in this respect as we have seen this morning has a quality of defiance.”
Mehanna, 29, was also convicted of making false statements, providing material support to a terrorist organization and conspiring to kill in a foreign country. U.S. prosecutors asked for a 25-year prison sentence.
Prosecutors said Mehanna traveled to Yemen in 2004 to seek training as a terrorist in order to kill American soldiers. After failing to get the training, they said, he edited and translated recruitment materials for al-Qaeda, the organization that planned the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington.
After Assistant U.S. Attorney Aloke Chakravarty told the judge that Mehanna’s claim that the government sent an undercover agent to entrap him was untrue, Mehanna shouted, “You’re a liar. Sit down.”
Talk to Court
In an address to the court, Mehanna became increasingly angry. He showed a photo of a 14-year-old girl he said had been raped and killed by U.S. soldiers and asserted that they were the terrorists.
Mehanna’s attorneys said in court filings that “no harm occurred to a single individual” as a result of his actions. “Espousing unpopular political views, even the views of al-Qaeda, is not illegal,” they said.
J.W. Carney, a lawyer for Mehanna, told reporters after the hearing that he will file an appeal next week and argued that the prosecutors’ references to the Sept. 11 attacks prejudiced the jury. He also said that an unidentified female juror, whom the judge wouldn’t allow to comment during the hearing, wanted to speak out against a lengthy sentence.
Mehanna’s lawyers asked for a maximum sentence of 6 1/2 years, saying in a court filing that it would “promote respect for the law, provide just punishment, afford adequate deterrence and protect the public.”
U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz told reporters, “We’re disappointed it wasn’t longer. He came across as an angry defiant young man.”
Mehanna has been held in solitary confinement for more than two years. He probably will serve his sentence under the “severe” conditions of a so-called Supermax prison, his lawyers said in court papers.
The judge also sentenced Mehanna to seven years of supervision after his release from prison. He said he rejected federal guidelines that called for life in prison because Mehanna had no prior criminal record and hadn’t engaged in specific terrorist acts.
Mehanna, who lived in Sudbury, Massachusetts, with his family, earned a doctorate from the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Science. He was hired to set up a pharmaceutical division for diabetes at a medical center in Saudi Arabia, according to court filings. His father, Ahmed, emigrated from Egypt in 1981 and is a professor at the college. As a teenager Tarek Mehanna played guitar in a grunge rock band, according to court papers.
“The evidence showed the defendant to be a serious young man interested in how he would form his life to please God,” the judge said today. “He became, however, consumed with a religious enthusiasm that was at once partly admirable and partly horrifying. As to the events in this case, the horrifying part came to dominate.”
The case is U.S. v. Mehanna, 09-10017, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston).