BOSTON (AP) — A Massachusetts man convicted of conspiring to help al-Qaida was sentenced Thursday to 17½ years in prison after giving an impassioned speech in which he declared his love for Islam and said, "This is not terrorism; it's self-defense."
Tarek Mehanna, 29, an American who grew up in the wealthy Boston suburb of Sudbury, was found guilty in December of traveling to Yemen to seek training in a terrorist camp with the intention of going on to Iraq to fight U.S. soldiers there. Prosecutors said that when that plan failed, Mehanna returned to the United States and began translating and disseminating materials online promoting violent jihad.
"In your eyes I'm a terrorist. I'm the only one standing here in an orange jumpsuit," Mehanna said in U.S. District Court in Boston. He later added: "America will change and recognize this trial for what it is."
Mehanna was sentenced on four terror-related charges and three counts of lying to authorities. His family and supporters gave him a standing ovation and called out "we love you" as he was led from the courtroom.
During the sentencing hearing, Mehanna gave a sweep of history and compared the suffering experienced by Muslims at the hands of Americans to the oppression inflicted on American colonists by the British. He mentioned Paul Revere, Malcolm X and Nelson Mandela, among others, and said he came to appreciate the plight of the oppressed against their oppressors as a 6-year-old boy reading comic books.
At times, he held up the picture of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl who had been raped by an American soldier and asked how anyone could not be angry about something like that.
Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz called Mehanna's remarks "disingenuous" and said he came across as angry and defiant.
"Trust me. Tarek Mehanna is no Nelson Mandela," Ortiz said.
Mehanna also suggested he was approached about becoming a government informant, recounting how he was told he had "to make a choice" during an encounter he had four years ago while leaving a hospital where he was working.
"I could do things the easy way or I could do things the hard way," Mehanna recalled being told. He later added: "The hard way is what you see before you."
As Assistant U.S. Attorney Aloke S. Chakravarty offered a rebuttal at the conclusion of Mehanna's remarks, Mehanna called him a liar and told him to sit down. The judge then called a recess.
Ortiz said there's no evidence that Mehanna was approached about becoming an informant.