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Details emerge on plot suspects

Two young men reportedly met at Sharon mosque

Ahmed Mehanna said of his son, Tarek , ‘It’s part of my faith in the system that he will not be mistreated.’ Ahmed Mehanna said of his son, Tarek , ‘It’s part of my faith in the system that he will not be mistreated.’
By Shelley Murphy and Milton J. Valencia
Globe Staff / October 23, 2009

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The man accused of plotting with a Sudbury friend to join a terrorist camp, launch an attack on shoppers at a mall, and kill American soldiers overseas grew up in Greater Boston and is the son of a prominent doctor and Muslim community leader.

Ahmad Abousamra was named Wednesday in an FBI affidavit filed in federal court in Boston as a conspirator with Tarek Mehanna, 27, of Sudbury, who was charged with providing support to terrorists. But federal officials released scant details about Abousamra when they announced Mehanna’s arrest. Abousamra has not been charged; he allegedly fled to Syria three years ago after being questioned by the FBI.

Yesterday, several people familiar with the case confirmed that Abousamra, 28, is the son of Dr. Abdul Abousamra, who worked at Massachusetts General Hospital for 21 years and was president of the Islamic Center of New England before moving to the Detroit area two years ago.

Ahmad Abousamra, who was raised in Stoughton and last lived in Mansfield, was a childhood friend of Mehanna’s, according to a person who knew the two men.

“They knew each other from when they were young,’’ said the person, who did not want to be identified because of the sensitivity of the case. He said Mehanna and Abousamra first met while attending the Sharon mosque run by the Islamic Center of New England.

Officials from the Islamic Center did not return calls for comment yesterday.

Messages left at Abdul Abousamra’s office and home were not returned.

Ahmad Abousamra attended Xaverian Brothers High School in Westwood for three years, then spent his senior year at Stoughton High School, graduating in 1999, according to news clippings from the Patriot Ledger listing him as an honor student throughout high school. The newspaper also reported that Abousamra attended Northeastern University and was on the dean’s list.

The FBI affidavit filed in federal court in Boston paints a more sinister portrait of Abousamra. It alleges he tried to join a terrorist training camp in Pakistan in 2002 and 2003, but was rejected by the Taliban because of a “lack of experience.’’

The affidavit alleges that Mehanna, who graduated from the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy, plotted between 2001 and May 2008 with Abousamra and an unnamed cooperating witness to attack a mall, assassinate two unidentified members of the US government’s executive branch, and attack US soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The affidavit says that Abousamra, Mehanna, and the cooperating witness plotted in 2003 to randomly execute shoppers and emergency responders at a mall, but that they scrapped the plan when they were unable to obtain automatic weapons. It also alleges that Abousamra and Mehanna traveled to Yemen in 2004 in a bid to join a terrorist training camp, but couldn’t find one that would take them.

Mehanna’s lawyer, J.W. Carney, did not return calls.

In an interview yesterday, Mehanna’s father, Ahmed, a professor at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy, said, “I cannot say anything about the case, but he’s my son, I know his character, I know that he cannot hurt a fly.’’

As he spoke in the living room of the family’s Sudbury home, a kitten darted across the floor, onto the furniture, and knocked over a decorative glass object, shattering it.

“This is his cat. She misses her master,’’ Ahmed Mehanna said of the calico kitten named Asal, which is Arabic for honey. “Imagine how kind he is to her. He could not hurt a fly, and they’re accusing him of terrorism.’’

Mehanna, who recently earned a doctorate at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy, had been arrested in November on a federal charge of lying to investigators in a terrorism investigation. He was accused of lying when asked about his ties to Daniel Maldonado, a former Massachusetts man who pleaded guilty two years ago to undergoing terrorism training in Somalia. Maldonado is serving a 10-year federal prison sentence and is now cooperating against Mehanna.

The new charge against Mehanna is more serious, and he is being held pending a hearing next Friday on whether he should remain jailed.

Ahmed Mehanna said he has not been able to contact his son.

“We don’t know where he is,’’ the father said. “But it’s part of my faith in the system that he will not be mistreated.’’

He also said he has faith that “due process should reveal the truth.’’

The Worcester Islamic Center, where Tarek Mehanna has recently prayed, released a statement yesterday saying the center “and the greater Muslim community in New England are in a state of shock at the recent allegations’’ against him.

“As Muslims, we condemn the planning or committing of any acts of violence,’’ the statement said.

Alhuda Academy, a school in Worcester where Tarek Mehanna recently taught science and religion to middle-schoolers, released a statement saying that while he worked there “he exhibited nothing but excellent manners and conduct.’’

The school said it condemns violence against innocent civilians and “this condemnation is required by our faith as Muslims, and our every experience with Tarek Mehanna suggests to us that he shared this belief.’’

Samuel A. Kelley, a student at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, who met Mehanna through that school’s Muslim Student Association, and through prayer night at the Islamic Society of Boston in Cambridge, said yesterday that he could not believe the allegations, considering the man he knew.

He said Mehanna had told him that the FBI continued to harass him over the past several years, but that he had long denied any role in any terrorism.

“Any time I talked to him, he’s said half the people the FBI has thrown names out about, he doesn’t even know these people,’’ Kelley said. He acknowledged Mehanna was aggressive in his writings, but added, “There’s a difference between opinions and actions, and that’s what’s crucial to understanding this. I couldn’t even imagine him killing a fly.’’

The Muslim American Society of Boston, the largest Muslim organization in New England and based at the Islamic Center in Roxbury, also released a statement condemning terrorism.

“If he is innocent, then we pray for a just judicial process and his speedy release,’’ it said. “If the accusations are true, then we are horrified, and unequivocally condemn the prospect of such acts, and pray for justice.’’

Globe correspondent John Guilfoil contributed to this report.