BOSTON — Tarek Mehanna, the Sudbury native convicted late last year of attempting to aid al-Qaida, has been sentenced to 210 months, or 17.5 years, in federal prison.
Mehanna spoke on his own behalf during the Boston federal court hearing, as WBUR’s David Boeri reports:
What took place was a dramatic, 20-minute monologue. He did not miss a beat, no notes. There was not a pause. He started talking about what he was was because of America. He said it’s because of America that I am who I am.
Boeri says it was also tense at the end:
He told the judge in no uncertain terms that this was all about freedom and savagely attacked prosecutors and called the chief prosecutor a liar. The prosecutor responded, the defense objected, the judge called a 15-minute recess.
Mehanna also told the judge that he supports oppressed people, and that his case wasn’t terrorism.
The sentence is more lenient than the 25 years prosecutors had sought. Mehanna’s defense had asked for a sentence of no more than 6.5 years in prison. The charges could have resulted in a life sentence, according to probation guidelines.
Here’s how the AP recaps the verdict against the 29-year-old pharmacy school graduate:
[Mehanna 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.
Federal prosecutors said that when that plan failed, Mehanna returned to the U.S. and began translating and disseminating materials online promoting violent jihad.
Defense lawyers characterized Mehanna as an unsophisticated man whose actions resulted in no harm to anyone.
With the defense’s sentencing memo, Mehanna sent a letter to the judge seeking leniency. In it, he expressed a desire to serve others and wrote proudly of his experiences teaching.
In federal court today, Judge George O’Toole said he’d received many supporting letters from Mehanna’s friends and family.
When the sentence was announced, Mehanna supporters stood and applauded, according to WBUR’s Beenish Ahmed. They chanted “Free Tarek!” outside the courthouse.
Tamer Mehanna said the cheers prove his brother’s innocence.
“Do you hear the support that we have?” he said. “We’ve had this support for two-and-a-half years because people who know Tarek in person know that he’s not the type of individual who would commit the kinds of crimes that the government has accused him of.”