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25-year term sought for Tarek Mehanna

Al Qaeda supporter called angry, callous

Tarek Mehanna says speech was protected by Constitution.

AP/File

Tarek Mehanna says speech was protected by Constitution.

They called him an angry, callous man, obsessed with violence and killing Americans.

Saying he led a double life as a would-be terrorist, federal prosecutors recommended Tuesday that convicted Al Qaeda supporter Tarek Mehanna be sentenced to 25 years in prison, a term they said would protect the public and punish him for committing “among the most serious crimes a person can commit.’’

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The prison term, prosecutors said, should be followed by a term of supervised probation for as long as Mehanna remains in the United States.

“To his family and community, he was a dutiful and scholarly young man, but to his close friends and online contacts, he was a proponent of violence as a means of achieving his political goals,’’ the prosecutors said, adding, “The nature of Mehanna’s crimes highlights his dangerousness and the resulting need to separate him from society.’’

The prosecutors’ recommendation differs starkly from the life term Mehanna faced under federal sentencing guidelines, as calculated by US probation officials.

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And yet the recommendation nearly quadruples the sentence of 6 1/2 that Mehanna’s lawyers had asked for, a term they said better reflects Mehanna’s conviction and the scope of his crimes.

US District Court Judge George A. O’Toole Jr., who presided over Mehanna’s nine-week trial, is to hand down a sentence Thursday during a hearing in which Mehanna is expected to address the judge. On Monday, Mehanna wrote O’Toole asking him to consider his work as a teacher and a pharmacist to determine who he truly is.

The 29-year-old is a US citizen from Sudbury who was living with his parents and who planned to work at a medical center in Saudi Arabia before his arrest in 2008 and his indictment a year later on terrorism charges.

He was found guilty in December of charges of conspiring to kill in a foreign country and to support terrorists and of lying to investigators in a terrorism investigation.

Prosecutors said Mehanna traveled to Yemen in 2004 seeking terrorism training so that he could carry out jihad, or holy war, against US soldiers in Iraq. He failed to find a camp but returned with a determination to support Al Qaeda by promoting the group’s ideology on the Internet. He translated texts and distributed videos glorifying violence including suicide bombings against US soldiers.

Mehanna has maintained through lawyers, his family members, and supporters - who wrote about 100 pages of letters to O’Toole asking for mercy - that he was a budding scholar who embraced a strict interpretation of his religion, but who never worked with Al Qaeda. His views were protected under the First Amendment, he said.

He has sought to draw a line between his opposition to the US foreign policy and forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, by violence if necessary, and the type of indiscriminate killings carried out by Al Qaeda terrorists.

But prosecutors argued in court filings Tuesday that Mehanna is no different than Al Qaeda members who carry out suicide bombings, saying he sought training in Yemen. When he failed to find a camp, he distributed videos promoting suicide bombings and even beheadings, saying he hoped they would cause others to “donate blood’’ to the opposition of US forces.

The prosecutors pointed to congressional reports stating that America’s war on terrorism has moved to the Internet, where Al Qaeda has worked to spread its message and recruit members. Mehanna supported that cause, the prosecutors said.

What is worse, the prosecutors said, is that Mehanna has refused to admit guilt and has instead sought to make himself out to be a martyr.

“He has consistently attempted to characterize himself as a victim of government excess and a symbol of First Amendment rights,’’ prosecutors said. “He is a defiant individual who now appears eager to cultivate a new identity as a symbol of defiance.’’

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at MValencia@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MiltonValencia.
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