A 27-year-old Sudbury man allegedly plotted to launch a terrorist attack on a shopping mall in which he and his fellow conspirators would mow down civilians with automatic weapons, federal authorities said today as they announced his arrest.
Desiring to take “some kind of action in furtherance of jihad,” Tarek Mehanna and his co-conspirators had multiple conversations about obtaining weapons and randomly shooting people in a mall, including discussions of the logistics of the mall attacks, assaulting from different entrances, and attacking emergency responders, acting US Attorney Michael Loucks said.
Federal authorities said Mehanna's arrest early this morning at his Sudbury residence had foiled plots to launch terrorist attacks both inside and outside the United States. Read the affidavit here.
Mehanna, who faces a charge of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists, was ordered held without bail until an Oct. 30 detention hearing at his initial appearance this afternoon before US Magistrate Judge Leo Sorokin in Boston. He conspired with Ahmad Abousamra, who left the country for Syria several years ago, and others, Loucks said in a news conference at his office in Boston.
Mehanna was first arrested and charged a year ago with lying to FBI agents in a terrorism investigation. "Today's arrest, done in conjunction with a search of his home, involves broader and more serious charges," Loucks said.
The conspirators also discussed attacking two members of the executive branch, Loucks said. Those people are no longer in the executive branch and "neither were in any danger at any time from Mehanna or his co-conspirators," he emphasized.
Mehanna's attorney, J.W. Carney, said outside the courthouse after his client's hearing that the case was the type "that challenges our commitment and faith in the United States Constitution."
"Our country is respected around the world because we presume that people charged with a crime are innocent and we require the government to prove its allegations in open court. I'm confident that the American people will put aside their fears and instead rely on the fairness guaranteed by our Constitution. Mr. Mehanna is entitled to that," he said, declining to comment further.
Prosecutors said the conspirators were inspired to prepare for the shopping mall attack by the Washington, D.C., sniper shootings of 2002 and viewed civilians as fair game because they were taxpayers and nonbelievers. The plot never materialized because the conspirators could not obtain automatic weapons.
They allegedly sought automatic weapons from Daniel Maldonado, a former Methuen resident who has since been captured while fighting for Al Qaeda in Somalia and is now serving a 10-year prison sentence, believing that Maldonado had gang contacts. But Maldonado told them he could only provide them with handguns
Prosecutors alleged that the plotters traveled to Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, seeking training from various terrorist groups to fight against US soldiers, though none of them were accepted. Prosecutors also said the conspirators viewed and disseminated jihadist videos.
In December 2006, Abousamra was interviewed by the members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, and within two weeks, he left for Syria and has never returned, Loucks said.
Mehanna was arrested in November 2008 at Logan International Airport as he was about to leave the country and was indicted in January on charges of making false statements to investigators.
A Massachusetts College of Pharmacy graduate, Mehanna was living in a sprawling Sudbury house with his parents. Mehanna’s friends and family described him as a maturing leader in the Muslim community, a passionate writer who was departing for Saudi Arabia for a career as a pharmacist.
But he faced scrutiny over his blog postings, which authorities described as pro-Al Qaeda, his acquaintances, and his associations with people like Maldonado, who became the first American charged with terrorism activities in Somalia.
Mehanna was re-arrested at 6 a.m. today at his home at 6 Fairhaven Circle in Sudbury, Sudbury police said, with local officers assisting the terrorism task force. He was processed at the police station before being turned over to federal agents.
Mehanna, who had no previous criminal record when he was originally arrested, faces up to 15 years in prison to be followed by 3 years of supervised release and a $ 250,000 fine, if convicted of the charge announced today.
Globe correspondent John M. Guilfoil contributed to this report.
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