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Tarek Mehanna’s father says terror sentence was unjust

Tarek Mehanna’s father, Ahmed Mehanna, said the sentence given his son was “an injustice.”

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Tarek Mehanna’s father, Ahmed Mehanna, said the sentence given his son was “an injustice.”

Tarek Mehanna’s father said the young man’s 17 ½-year prison term on terror charges was unjust, and Mehanna’s lawyer likened him to Martin Luther King Jr. or Nelson Mandela. But federal prosecutors said after his sentencing today that he had gotten what he deserved.

“Mr. Mehanna faced the consequences of his actions -- for conspiring to support terrorists, for conspiring to kill Americans oversees, and for lying to the FBI,” said US Attorney Carmen Ortiz.

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“This is not about the First Amendment. This is about how Tarek Mehanna made decisions for himself with no consideration for others,” she told reporters outside US District Court in Boston.

US District Judge George A. O’Toole handed down the sentence, which will be followed by seven years of supervised release. Mehanna was convicted in December of traveling to Yemen in 2004 in an unsuccessful search for terror training, returning to use the Internet to spread Al Qaeda’s message, then lying about his activities to federal agents.

Mehanna’s father, Ahmed, said after the sentencing that his son had been wrongly convicted by a fearful government that is now more repressive than the Egyptian government he grew up under decades ago.

He said the fact that O’Toole had sentenced his son to 17 1/2 years – instead of the 25 years sought by prosecutors – was of no significance because, in either case, he is behind bars.

“You are taking him for a large part of his life and putting him in a cage. Is that humane? Is that humane?’’ he asked. “It’s an injustice.’’

Mehanna, 29, is a pharmacy college graduate who grew up in comfortable Sudbury, a Boston suburb. He is an American citizen.

Mehanna’s attorney, J.W. Carney Jr., a prominent hard-charging defender whose other clients include notorious gangster James “Whitey” Bulger, publicly thanked the judge for imposing a sentence that will allow Mehanna to be freed when he is “comparatively a young man and be able to live as full a life as he can.’’

“I wonder how history will view today’s statement by Tarek Mehanna,” Carney said, referring to Mehanna’s defiant speech in court expressing his love for Islam and his anger at US wars overseas.

“I wonder what Nelson Mandela’s lawyer thought when Nelson Mandela made a speech when he was sentenced to life in prison. The lawyer probably thought it was a criminal case, but we now know it was a political case. I wonder what Martin Luther King’s lawyer thought when his client was sentenced to prison. That lawyer probably thought it was a criminal case. We now know that it was a political case. When the history of Islam is written, I wonder what impact this speech by Tarek Mehanna will have on future generations,’’ Carney said.

Carney added, “I was proud to be sitting next to Tarek Mehanna ... He obviously views himself as a leader in the Islamic community and was putting forth how important it is for Muslims to defend other Muslims who are being oppressed or being attacked. ... If that’s defiant, he is in very good company with a lot of other people who have defiantly opposed apartheid or slavery or other injustices that have been done in this world.’’

But Ortiz, the federal prosecutor, said the case was about prosecuting a criminal and keeping the United States safe.

“Our goal is to do justice and do whatever we can to keep the people of this Commonwealth and our country safe,” she said.

“We are not prosecuting individuals because they are Muslim. We prosecute people because they engage in criminal conduct,” she said.

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