Opening statements began Thursday in the federal trial of a Massachusetts man charged with conspiring to help al-Qaida terrorists.
Tarek Mehanna "began translating jihad material … material that would encourage others to participate in jihad, which was itself a service to Al Qaeda," federal prosecutor Aloke Chakravarty told the 16-member jury, the Boston Globe reported.
Chakravarty drew attention to an al-Qaida manual translated by Mehanna called "39 Ways to Make Jihad."
"This is essentially training material to get ready to serve and participate in that fight," Chakravarty said.
But defense lawyers claim Mehanna visited Yemen for religious purposes and his online jihadi activities are protected by the First Amendment as long as they do not involve a terrorist organization.
Mehanna should not be punished for his opposition to U.S. foreign policy, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, said defense attorney J.W. Carney, Jr.
"I'm not here to convince you to believe that his view and the view of millions of others was correct. ... I am asking you to find that you can hold that view in the United States of America even if the government does not want you to hold that view," Carney said.
Prosecutors allege Mehanna and two coconspirators traveled to Pakistan in 2002 and Yemen in 2004 with the intent to seek military-type training in a terrorist camp that would prepare them for armed jihad against U.S. forces stationed in Iraq. The trips ended in failure, however, and frustrated with their inability to wage jihad overseas, Mehanna and others turned to plot attacks within the United States, including randomly shooting people in a shopping mall. The alleged mall plot fell through after Mehanna and his associates failed to obtain automatic weapons needed to carry out the attack.
Prosecutors also charge Mehanna and coconspirators with attempting to radicalize others as well as inspire themselves by watching and distributing online jihadi videos.
A graduate of the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Mehanna is reported to have become radicalized over the past decade. He faces up to life in prison if convicted of all the charges.