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Tarek Mehanna lived with his parents in Sudbury, an upscale suburb 20 miles west of Boston. In 2008, he received a doctorate in pharmacy from the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, where his father is a chemistry professor.
On Wednesday morning, the 27-year-old was arrested at home and charged by federal prosecutors with conspiring with two men to kill two prominent U.S. politicians and carry out a holy war by attacking shoppers in U.S. malls and American troops in Iraq.
The trio's alleged plans — in which they used code words like "peanut butter and jelly" for fighting in Somalia and "culinary school" for terrorist camps — were thwarted in part when they could not find training and were unable to buy automatic weapons, authorities said.
Mehanna made a defiant appearance in federal court in Boston after being charged. He initially refused to stand for the judge before the terror charge against him was read. He finally did stand, on his father's urging, after tossing his chair loudly to the floor.
"This really, really is a show," his father, Ahmed Mehanna, said afterward. When asked if he believed the charges against his son, he said, "No, definitely not."
Mehanna's lawyer, J.W. Carney, also spoke after the court appearance.
"This is the type of case that tests the American peoples' commitment to the United States Constitution," Carney said. "I'm confident that the American people will put aside their sense of fear and instead retain their sense of fairness in the rights protected by our Constitution. Tarek Mehanna deserves that."
The Facebook profile of Tamer Mehanna, whose network is listed as "Boston, MA," includes a status message posted Wednesday morning that reads: "Please everybody and anybody, take a moment from your day and make du3ah or a prayer for my brother Tariq...thank you."
Authorities said Mehanna sought training in terrorist camps and worked with others from 2001 to May 2008 on the conspiracy to "kill, kidnap, maim or injure" people in foreign countries and the politicians.
The politicians were members of the executive branch who are no longer in office and are not in danger, authorities said. They refused to give their names.
Prosecutors said Mehanna's co-conspirators are Ahman Abousamra, who authorities say is now in Syria, and an unnamed man who is cooperating with authorities in the investigation.
Mehanna also was arrested last year and charged with lying to FBI agents when asked about the whereabouts of Daniel Maldonado, who is now serving a 10-year prison sentence for training alongside al-Qaida members to overthrow the Somali government.
Mehanna told the FBI that Maldonado was living and working in Egypt. But authorities said Maldonado had called Mehanna from Somalia, urging him to join him in "training for jihad."
"Today's arrest, done in conjunction with a search of his home, involves broader, more serious charges," said Warren Bamford, special agent in charge of the Boston FBI field office, at a news conference Wednesday in Boston.
"Mehanna, along with his co-conspirators, desired to take some kind of action in furtherance of jihad," Bamford said, "including trips overseas in an effort to join training camps and to fight and kill American soldiers."
Acting U.S. Attorney Michael Loucks said Wednesday that Mehanna and his alleged co-conspirators had contacted Maldonado about getting automatic weapons for their planned mall attacks, which Loucks said were apparently inspired by the DC sniper attacks in 2002.
Prosecutors would not say which malls had been targeted.
"They had discussions ... regarding how to do it," Loucks said. "Whether to do it from multiple entrances, what to do when emergency responders arrive, and one of them took the step to go to Maldonado to try to utilize his — what they believe to be his — gang contacts to obtain automatic weapons."
The suspects determined it was not feasible to go forward with the plan, Loucks said, after the group member traveled to New Hampshire to meet with Maldonado and reported back that he could only provide them with handguns, not automatic weapons.
Mehanna was arrested at 6 a.m. Wednesday in his home in Sudbury, at 6 Fairhaven Circle, where he lived with his parents, Ahmed and Souad. Sudbury Police said they assisted the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force in arresting Mehanna, without incident.
Video: News Conference
Residents of the quiet neighborhood were surprised to hear of the arrest.
"I know his dad. I see his dad a lot," said 18-year-old Mike DeMarco, who lives across the street. "They're very nice people. I see him every once in awhile. He gives a friendly neighborhood wave."
DeMarco said the family moved in about six years ago. "They made this house, they had it built or something," he said. "It used to be a kind of small house, so it made the neighborhood more nice. I've always been happy they've lived here, and they've never caused any trouble around here from what I've known."
One woman called the family "quiet" and said she never had any problems with them. A man who asked not to be named said the family was "reclusive" and that he didn't know much about them.
Another neighbor, John Pistone, said that while he's shocked by what's alleged to have happened in his neighborhood, he's comforted that law enforcement is doing its job.
"It's a little discouraging that there are people like that," Pistone said, "but it's also encouraging that our forces are out there investigating."
State Sen. Susan Fargo represents Sudbury. "What's so shocking about this is that it's right next door," Fargo said. "It's in a community with a very low crime rate, where life goes on. It's not the place where you would expect to find a cell of terrorists."
Fargo stressed the importance of reaching out to members of the local Islamic community in the wake of the arrest. "We should be very careful about generalizing and being overly suspicious of people in our midst," she said. "These are all law-abiding people of faith."
Mehanna is being held until his next court appearance Oct. 30.
WBUR's Steve Brown and Kathleen McNerney and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
This program aired on October 21, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.
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