Tarek Mehanna terror convictions upheld by federal appeals court

A federal appeals court in Boston has upheld the terrorism convictions of Tarek Mehanna, a young man from Sudbury who conspired to kill American soldiers and support Al Qaeda.

Calling terrorism “the modern-day equivalent of the bubonic plague” and an “existential threat,” the First US Circuit Court of Appeals said government’s efforts to combat terrorism would understandably be “fierce.”

The court said it was called upon to “patrol the fine line between vital national security concerns and forbidden encroachments on constitutionally protected freedoms of speech and association.”

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“After careful consideration of the massive record, the defendant’s prolific arguments, and the controlling law, we affirm” the convictions, a three-judge panel of the court found in an opinion written by Justice Bruce M. Selya.

Mehanna was convicted in 2012 and sentenced to 17½ years in federal prison on seven counts of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists, conspiring to kill in a foreign country, and lying to authorities in a terrorism investigation.

Mehanna traveled to Yemen in 2004 to try to get terrorist training but was rejected. After returning to the United States, he translated and distributed pro-Al Qaeda, pro-jihad, and Al Qaeda-generated documents on the Internet, the court said.

The defense argued that Mehanna had only exercised his First Amendment right to discuss politics and religion, consume certain media, and associate with certain people, the court said. And the defense argued that the “record shows nothing more than that he went to Yemen to pursue Islamic studies,” the court said.

But the jurors in the case could reasonably have found differently, the court ruled, based on the evidence, which included Mehanna’s own actions, his discussions with others, the statements of his co-conspirators, and materials that he kept on his computer or shared on the Internet.

“We think it virtually inarguable that rational jurors could find that the defendant and his associates went abroad to enlist in a terrorist training camp,” the court said.

“We are confident ... that the defendant was fairly tried, justly convicted, and lawfully sentenced,” the court said.

“We do not pretend to understand why the defendant chose to go down such a treacherous path. Nevertheless, 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,” the court said.

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