Statements that Tarek Mehanna allegedly made to the FBI two years ago in the midst of a terrorism investigation came back to haunt him last weekend, when the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy graduate was arrested as he was about to board a Boston flight to start a new job overseas.
Mehanna, 26, who was living in a sprawling house in Sudbury with his parents, is charged with lying to the FBI in December 2006 when questioned about the whereabouts and activities of Daniel J. Maldonado, a former Methuen resident who was suspected of training at an Al Qaeda terrorist camp to overthrow the Somali government.
An FBI affidavit unsealed in federal court in Boston Monday alleges that Mehanna told agents on Dec. 16, 2006, that he had known Maldonado for three or four years and that when he last spoke to him two weeks earlier, Maldonado was living in a suburb of Alexandria, Egypt, and working for a website.
But Maldonado had actually placed several calls from Somalia to Mehanna's Sudbury home four days before the FBI interview, urging him to "join him in training for jihad," the affidavit says.
After Maldonado's capture a month later, a cooperating witness secretly recorded conversations with Mehanna, who fretted about lying to the FBI, according to the affidavit.
"When the FBI asked me where Dan was . . . I told them he was still in Egypt . . . and he had called me the day before that from Somalia," Mehanna told the witness, according to the affidavit. "That's very bad. I don't know how the heck I'm gonna explain that one."
The affidavit says Mehanna was recorded saying, "I don't ever remember if he said the word Somalia on the phone, but that's a problem because, like, lying to them in and of itself is a crime."
The complaint filed against Mehanna in Boston charges him with knowingly making false statements concerning an FBI investigation involving international terrorism. He is not facing any charges of terrorism.
During a brief appearance in US District Court on Monday, Mehanna was ordered held without bail pending a hearing on whether he should be jailed without bail until the case is resolved, Christina DiIorio Sterling, a spokeswoman for the US attorney's office, said yesterday.
J.W. Carney Jr., a Boston lawyer who represents Mehanna, said, "If this is the FBI's idea of a terrorist, they are using a net that is designed to catch minnows instead of sharks."
Mehanna's father did not want to comment on the case, referring questions to Carney. But he said his son had a good reputation and earned a doctorate in pharmacy from the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy in May.
He questioned the FBI's decision to arrest his son two years after they interviewed him and just as he was about to board a flight to Saudi Arabia, where he had a new job awaiting him.
"Tarek is an American citizen with no prior criminal record whatsoever," Carney said. "He recently graduated from a Massachusetts college and was on his way abroad to begin a job working in a renowned medical facility."
Neither Sterling, nor Gail Marcinkiewicz, a spokeswoman for the FBI, would comment on the case.
Maldonado - who grew up in Pelham, N.H., before living in Methuen - was arrested in January 2007 as he fled Somalia. He became the first US citizen charged with participating in terrorist activities in Somalia.
Last year, he pleaded guilty in federal court in Houston to receiving training at a terrorist camp in Somalia alongside Al Qaeda members.
He admitted training to use firearms and explosives as part of an effort to help a group called the Islamic Courts Union overthrow the Somali government and install an Islamic state.
Maldonado is serving a 10-year prison term.
The affidavit filed in Mehanna's case in Boston says that Maldonado admitted to authorities that while in the southern part of Somalia, he called Mehanna and, using code words, urged him to join in fighting for an Islamic state in Somalia.
The affidavit says Mehanna told the cooperating witness that when Maldonado called him from Somalia he did not say anything that provided direct evidence that he was doing anything illegal.
But, Mehanna told the witness that Maldonado used code words, including "culinary school" and the phrase, "making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches," which meant, "I'm here fighting," according to the affidavit.