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Al-Qaeda Translator Mehanna’s Conviction Upheld on Appeal

Nov. 13 (Bloomberg) -- Tarek Mehanna’s conviction for conspiring to help al-Qaeda by translating a manual titled “39 Ways to Serve and Participate in Jihad” was upheld by a federal appeals court.

Mehanna’s 17 1/2-year prison term also was justified, the three judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston ruled today.

“We do not pretend to understand why the defendant chose to go down such a treacherous path,” Judge Bruce M. Selya wrote on behalf of the panel. “The jury found that he knowingly and intentionally made that choice, and that finding is both supported by the clear weight of the evidence and untainted by legal error.”

Mehanna, 30, who has a degree in pharmacy, traveled to Yemen in search of terrorism training from al-Qaeda but was unable to locate the camp and returned home, according to prosecutors. Mehanna then waged jihad from his bedroom in his parents’ home in suburban Boston, where he translated al-Qaeda documents and posted them to the Internet, prosecutors said.

Mehanna was convicted of conspiring to give material support to al-Qaeda and sentenced by U.S. District Judge George O’Toole in April 2012.

His lawyers, as well as groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, argued that government efforts to “prohibit unpopular expression” by Mehanna violate the U.S. Constitution’s right to free speech and warrant reversal of his conviction.

Sept. 11 Images

The appeals panel rejected Mehanna’s claims that jurors were unfairly prejudiced against him by prosecutors’ use of images from Sept. 11, repeated references to Osama bin Laden and Mehanna’s own writings celebrating the deaths of U.S. soldiers as “Texas barbecue.”

“Terrorism trials are not to be confused with high tea at Buckingham Palace,” Selya said, explaining that the panel found the trial judge was within his discretion to allow the images. “It should not surprise a defendant that proof of his participation in conspiracies to provide material support to terrorist organizations and to kill Americans here and abroad will engender the presentation of evidence offensive to the sensibilities of civilized people.”

Two lawyers for Mehanna, P. Sabin Willet and J.W. Carney Jr., didn’t immediately respond to e-mails seeking comment on today’s ruling.

Fugitive

Another former Boston area man, Ahmed Abousamra, who was indicted in 2009 with Mehanna on charges of providing material support to terrorists, is a fugitive. The FBI last year announced a $50,000 reward for information leading to Abousamra’s capture. Investigators said they believe Abousamra may have fled to Syria.

The appeals case is U.S. v. Mehanna, 12-01461, U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit (Boston). The lower-court case is U.S. v. Mehanna, 1:09-cr-10017, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston).

To contact the reporter on this story: Janelle Lawrence in Boston at jmlawrence@me.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

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