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Massachusetts Man Arrested for Attempting to Wage "Violent Jihad" against America

UPDATE: On December 20, 2011, Tarek Mehanna was convicted of conspiracy to provide material support to Al Qaeda, conspiracy to commit murder in a foreign country and other charges. On April 12, 2012, he was sentenced to 17-and-a-half-years in prison.

Posted: October 22, 2009

A Massachusetts man who allegedly planned to attack a U.S. shopping mall and American troops in Iraq has been arrested and charged for attempting to wage "violent jihad" against America. His arrest is the latest in a series of terror-related charges in the U.S. since September.

On October 21, 2009, Tarek Mehanna, 27, was charged in a Massachusetts federal court with conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists.  An indictment handed down on November 5, 2009, added nine other charges against Mehanna and coconspirator Ahmad Abousamra, 28, including providing material support to terrorists and conspiracy to kill in a foreign country.  The men were charged with conspiring to provide material support to Al Qaeda in an indictment filed on June 17, 2010.  


From 2001 to 2008, Mehanna, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Egypt, and Abousamra, an American citizen, allegedly conspired with others to provide material support and resources to "kill, kidnap, maim or injure persons or damage property in a foreign country" and "extraterritorial homicide of a U.S. national." Mehanna has pleaded not guilty to all charges, while Abousamra remains at large.  The men each face a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.


Mehanna, a former doctoral student at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Abousamra and other unidentified coconspirators plotted to randomly shoot people at a U.S. shopping mall, according to the affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint. In planning the logistics of the attack and its aftermath, Mehanna and his associates discussed the types of weapons needed, the number of people who would be involved, how to coordinate the attack from multiple entrances and attacking emergency responders. It appears that the group ultimately abandoned their plan because of their inability to obtain the weapons necessary to carry it out.


Mehanna's and Abousamra's plot follows a series of other unrelated planned attacks against American citizens and institutions. In September 2009, several men were charged in separate plots to bomb a federal building, a 60-story skyscraper, a major city's transit system and a U.S. military base. These plots illustrate the continuing threat against the U.S. posed by those motivated by radical interpretations of Islam.


In a recorded conversation with an FBI source, Mehanna criticized the presence of the American military in the "heart of the Muslim world" and that the "land of Mohammad…is being used as a military base to attack Muslims." The affidavit alleges that Mehanna and his coconspirators expressed their desire to participate in "violent jihad" against American interests, including U.S. soldiers stationed in Iraq and elsewhere, and to die on the battlefield.


In an attempt to inspire each other and radicalize others, Mehanna and his associates watched and distributed "jihadi videos," according to the affidavit. The majority of these videos, both VHS and downloaded from the Internet, allegedly belonged to Mehanna. Court documents also allege that Mehanna encouraged others to download additional jihad recruiting videos.


The indictment further alleges that Mehanna and another unnamed coconspirator allegedly sought to establish themselves as the "media wing" of Al Qaeda in "raafidayn," or Al Qaeda in the Land of Two Rivers, which is commonly known as Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). The men allegedly translated and distributed messages via the Internet from and about Al Qaeda leaders, including AQI second in command Abu Anas al-Shami and Umar Hadid, another associate of AQI.


Mehanna also translated into English "39 Ways to Serve and Participate in Jihad," described in the indictment as a manual "intended to incite people to engage in violent jihad." According to court documents, Mehanna's 65-page translation directs the reader to "Do away with the Americans" and instructs the reader to, among other things, "go for jihad yourself," train with weapons and engage in "electronic jihad." His translation was allegedly published by At-Tibyan Publications, a Web site administered by a British man serving a 12-year prison sentence for distributing Al Qaeda and other terrorist-related materials. Mehanna's translation of "39 Ways to Serve and Participate in Jihad" is the most widely distributed version and the basis for translations into other languages.  


Mehanna, who has also expressed his admiration for Osama bin Laden, allegedly distributed a video depicting the mutilation and abuse of American personnel in Iraq, according to the indictment. The video also contains images of bin Laden thanking his followers in Iraq for their continued attacks against American soldiers and their allies.


In 2003, Mehanna, Abousamra and their coconspirators allegedly planned to attack American troops stationed overseas, researching various ways to enter Iraq through its neighboring countries. The following year, according to the affidavit, they decided to travel to Yemen to seek military training at a terrorist camp. Before leaving for Yemen in February 2004, the men divided their money amongst themselves to avoid having to file a currency report and airport scrutiny. They also determined a cover story – their intentions to study at a Yemeni religious school – in case they were questioned by law enforcement officials.


Unable to find a terrorist training camp in Yemen, Mehanna returned to the U.S. shortly thereafter.  According to the indictment, Abousamra traveled from Yemen to Jordan and Fallujah, Iraq, "for the purpose of joining others in fighting and killing United States nationals."  The indictment further alleges that Abousamra later lied to federal officials when he told them that he traveled to Iraq seeking employment as an Arabic/English translator.


According to the affidavit, Abousamra made two similar trips to Pakistan in 2002 to "obtain training in furtherance of jihad" and to join the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani-based terrorist organization with links to Al Qaeda. Following Abousamra's failure to join a terrorist group in Pakistan, he and Mehanna began to explore other options, including committing terrorist acts in the U.S. In addition to suggesting a shopping mall as a potential target for a terrorist attack, the men also proposed shooting and killing two specific members of the executive branch of the U.S. government, according to the affidavit.  


Shopping centers have been the target of other terrorist plots in the U.S. in recent years. American citizen Derrick Shareef was sentenced to 35 years in prison in September 2008 for planning to sett off several grenades at an Illinois shopping mall during the 2006 holiday shopping season. Somali national Nuradin Abdi, who plotted to attack an Ohio shopping mall during Thanksgiving, was arrested in November 2003 and is currently serving a ten year prison sentence.


Mehanna was previously arrested in November 2008 for lying to the FBI about his relationship and contact with Daniel Maldonado, a former resident of Metheun, Massachusetts, who Mehanna reportedly met at a Lowell mosque. In April 2007, Maldonado pleaded guilty to receiving firearms and explosives training from a foreign terrorist organization in Somalia


Prior to Maldonado's trip to Somalia, he and Mehanna allegedly created a code to be used during future telephone and Internet conversations. "Peanut butter and jelly," they had determined, would be their code phrase referring to terrorist training and fighting. During questioning following his arrest, Maldonado told federal agents that he called Mehanna while he was in the southern part of Somalia, and, using code words, urged Mehanna to join in fighting. Maldonado subsequently provided Mehanna with detailed instructions on how to get to Somalia to join him.


During their first meeting, Maldonado and Mehanna watched a video showing the plight of the Muslims in Bosnia and Palestine, according to the affidavit. In later discussions about suicide bombings, the men expressed approval of the September 11 terrorist attacks and happiness about the death of Americans in Iraq. The indictment further alleges that Maldonado, Mehanna and Abousamra discussed the religious justification for suicide bombing, the killing of civilians and the "glory of dying on the battlefield for Allah."


Mehanna, who reportedly attended the Worcester Islamic Center, maintains a blog of translations of the Qur'an and Qur'anic exegesis. The blog, entitled "Milestones on the Road to Firmness in Faith," is seemingly named after a passage in the book "Milestones" by Sayyid Qutb, a leading Muslim Brotherhood intellectual whose ideologies were adopted by terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda and Hamas. Mehanna's blog subsequently contains various sections on Qutb and other radical ideologues, including Abdullah Azzam, former leader of the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood who served as a mentor to Osama bin Laden. Mehanna has also written multiple posts commending Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani woman with alleged links to Al Qaeda, for her aspirations to make America a Muslim land.


In an August 2008 post, Mehanna quotes Azzam in an explanation for the multiple references to Jews and Christians in the Qur'an. According to Azzam, the People of the Book, who Muslims generally refer to as the Jews and Christians, "would in the future take their place as the lump in the throat standing in the face of this religion." A post from the previous month accuses Jewish scholars and educators of corrupting Muslim students and sending them back to their respective countries "after having wiped out all the Islam that was in their conscience with bleach."


Mehanna has also posted messages on a number of online Islamic forums in support of Ali al-Tamimi, a Muslim cleric sentenced to life in prison for counseling his followers to attend terrorist training camps run by the Pakistan-based terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba. In March 2009, Mehanna pooled together more than 30 letters to send to the imprisoned Muslim cleric.


Similarly, Mehanna sent letters to Daniel Boyd, an American Muslim convert who has been indicted for plotting to attack the Quantico military base in Virginia and for leading a group of seven other North Carolina-based men who conspired to carry out "violent jihad."


Several other American Muslim extremists have been charged, convicted or sentenced on terror-related charges in 2009. For more information, see: Criminal Proceedings in 2009.


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American Muslim Extremists: A Growing Threat to Jews

Criminal Proceedings in 2009

A Series of Terror Plots Foiled in September 2009

Al Shabaab's American Recruits

Terrorist Groups Use Distinct Symbols To Convey Their Ideology And Goals.

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