An attorney for the Sudbury man accused of plotting terrorist attacks says his client was charged only after he refused to become an informant for the FBI.
Tarek Mehanna appeared in federal court in downtown Boston on Thursday for a bail hearing.
Prosecutor Alkoe Chakravarty argued that Mehanna must remain in jail because his radical views make him a danger to the public, and that Mehanna would be likely to flee the country before trial.
But Mehanna's attorney, J.W. Carney, argued for his client to be released to home confinement while awaiting trial. He said Mehanna was arrested only after he had been approached by the FBI several times but was unwilling to be an informant.
"My client was visited by the FBI who wanted him to be an informant against the Muslim community. He declined," Carney said. "They came to see him again and questioned him further and again asked him, and he declined. They came to him a third time and told him he would be charged with a crime and wanted him to become an informant and he declined to become an informant. Months later he was charged with a crime and he was released in this court in December of 2008."
About a year ago, Mehanna was charged with lying in 2006 about the whereabouts of an acquaintance who is now serving a prison sentence for training with al-Qaida.
Mehanna was arrested again last month on more serious charges, including conspiring to shoot shoppers in a mall, kill two U.S. politicians and kill American soldiers in Iraq.
During arguments, Assistant U.S. Attorney Chakravarty said Mehanna and his friends had gathered to watch videos of Americans being beheaded.
Carney said that description illustrates that the government had tried to use "every vehicle of character assassination" to paint a negative picture of Mehanna. He said this case is about First Amendment rights.
"I am proud that we still have the First Amendment in this country. It's not designed to protect popular speech, but unpopular speech," he said. "This trial will very much center on the fact that Tarek Mehanna occasionally made unpopular speech that is completely protected by the First Amendment."
About 100 supporters, including about two dozen of Mehanna's former students from a Muslim school in Worcester, gathered outside the courthouse. Also among the supporters was Mehanna's mother, Souad Mehanna. "He's a wonderful boy. He's a wonderful son," she said. "He's innocent."
Magistrate Judge Leo Sorokin did not immediately rule. Carney said he expects a ruling in about two weeks.
This program aired on November 12, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.