Boston judge bans public displays in court by supporters of alleged would-be terrorist

Supporters of alleged would-be terrorist Tarek Mehanna, including family members who have attended his dozens of hearings in US District Court in Boston over the last two years, will be restricted from publicly displaying their support for him when Mehanna’s trial begins later this month.

US District Judge George A. O’Toole Jr. indicated he would prevent any public signs of support for either the defense or the prosecution when jury selection begins in the young Sudbury man’s case on Oct. 24.

Mehanna’s supporters, who have numbered in the dozens, have made their presence in the courtroom clear in recent hearings by wearing “Free Tarek’’ T-shirts and yellow ribbons.

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“I’m concerned it can potentially affect the jurors in ways no one can understand,’’ the judge said, adding of the yellow ribbons, “It’s a small inference that it can be a show of support.’’

At the same time, the judge asked prosecutors to refrain from using the term “our soldiers’’ when referring to the US military in statements to the jury.

Mehanna is charged with conspiring to support terrorism and providing material support to terrorists for allegedly trying to serve in the “media wing’’ for Al Qaeda, according to court records.

Prosecutors say he worked to translate documents promoting violent jihad against Americans into English, and then distributed them on the Internet.

Prosecutors also say he traveled to Yemen in search of terrorism training seven years ago, and that he decided to serve in the “media wing’’ when that effort failed.

But defense lawyers said that Mehanna cannot be prosecuted for promoting his own beliefs: a strong criticism of United States foreign policy. They argue that he is protected by his First Amendment right to free speech, and that at no point was his work ever for, or at the behest of, Al Qaeda.

They also argued that Mehanna traveled to Yemen solely for educational purposes.

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