Tarek Mehanna, a 29 year old pharmacy graduate from Massachusetts, was sentenced on April 12, 2012 to 17 1/2 years in federal prison for, among other charges, conspiring to help al Qaeda. This past December he was convicted in federal district court for also conspiring to commit murder in a foreign country and making false statements.
In 2004, Mehanna travelled to Yemen to receive training on how to kill American soldiers and how to support terrorism at home. He never found a training camp and it is uncertain if he even made contact with a terrorist group. Once he returned to the United States, he posted al Qaeda recruitment videos and other propaganda on the internet. Mehanna is also said to have been in contact with Daniel Joseph Maldonado, who in 2007 pleaded guilty to travelling to Somalia to fight in a jihad against the transitional government there. Boston College law professor has labelled Mehanna as a “terrorist wannabe.”
This case has a drawn a lot of attention from legal scholars as they debate the extent of free speech protection and the point at which authorities can take action against someone they suspect is engaged in pre-terror-related activity. Mehanna’s lawyers have argued that by distributing jihadist propaganda, he was merely exercising his First Amendment rights of free speech. The prosecutors argued that law enforcement has a duty to head off and deter potential terror threats. They view Mehanna’s actions as the same type that other individuals who become radicalized in America replicate before taking more extreme steps.