Massachusetts Man Gets 17.5 Year Federal Prison Sentence in Terrorism Case

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.

3 comments

  1. This is a tough case. I fully believe and support the free speech rights of Americans. However, terrorism is a real and pressing concern. During the sentencing hearing, Mehanna compared the suffering experienced by Muslims at the hands of Americans to the oppression inflicted on American colonists by the British. He mentioned Paul Revere, Malcolm X and Nelson Mandela, among others, and said he came to appreciate the plight of the oppressed against their oppressors as a 6-year-old boy reading comic books.

    Prosecutors asked for a 25-year prison sentence, saying he lived a double life, appearing as a scholarly young man to his family and community, but in reality, he was a proponent of violence as a means of achieving political goals.

    I would not be opposed to him expressing his ideas and beliefs, researching the Islamic faith, or even Jihad groups. I think it crossed over into terrorist acts when he went to Yemen to actually try to be trained as a terrorist and kill American Soldiers.

  2. This is a hard case. It seems that the aspect of the case that made it more than what was protected under the first amendment was his trip to Yemen. While the intent seems to have been there, in that he did plan to go get trained as a terrorist, he didn’t receive the training. So there was an overt act in furtherance of a crime but I am not clear that a crime was really committed. It doesn’t seem that he has real ties to Al Qaeda. However, I do see a value in this decision as well as real justification. It seems that he should have been found guilty of attempted terrorism. If everything had gone as he had planned, it seems that he would have been a terrorist. However, I am not sure that he was. The case does seem to serve as a reminder that the government takes a hard line stance against all forms and degrees of terrorism.

  3. Ultimately I think this was a fair outcome. We live in a post-9/11 world where terrorism, in any capacity, is not taken lightly. Since 9/11 we have realized that there is no room for leniency when it comes to the safety of our nation. This is a problematic case for the sheer fact that Mehanna never received the actual training on how to kill American soldiers. The only actions taken by Mehanna were his internet postings and his contact with Maldonado. There may not have been a lot of evidence to go on, but when it comes to terrorism the court seems comfortable with giving a heavy sentence to potential terrorists who have taken proactive steps towards terrorizing the American people. The sentence may seem a little harsh for a “terrorist wannabe”, but hopefully this will help deter others from having anything to do with terrorism and seeking any information on how to terrorize through the internet or other means.

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