Muslim community rallies behind Sudbury man charged by the FBI
To friends and family, he was a maturing leader in the Muslim community, a passionate writer who was departing for Saudi Arabia for a career as a pharmacist. But the arrest of Tariq Mehanna in November, as he was about to board a plane at Logan International Airport for his new life in the Middle East, has cast the 26-year-old in darker terms, as a liar supporting and associating with terrorists.
With an indictment in federal court, the Sudbury man faces a maximum sentence of eight years in prison on charges of lying to investigators in a terrorism inquiry. But a community of supporters has rallied around him, questioning how Mehanna could have been ensnared in a federal case and whether he is being used a pawn in the FBI's war on terrorism.
"They're kind of painting the wrong picture of the Muslim community," said S. Ahmad Zamanian of Houston, a friend of Mehanna's. "Anyone who has met Tariq . . . would all tell you that this man is far removed from anyone's definition of a terrorist."
Mehanna has been released pending trial after his parents posted more than $1 million in surety, including their sprawling Sudbury home. His lawyers, led by J.W. Carney Jr. of Boston, are challenging the case.
But he is also fighting a separate battle to shed a stigma that has shadowed him since his arrest, as he faces scrutiny over his blog postings, his acquaintances, and his associations with people such as Daniel Maldonado, who later became the first American charged with terrorism activities in Somalia.
Just as often as Mehanna's friends have defended him, others have referred to him as an "Al Qaeda blogger." His interpretations of Arabic passages - seen as poetic by some - have been taken by critics as a promotion of Islamic fundamentalism.
"You can bet that the FBI arrest on relatively minor charges was taken because there was a reasonable fear that Mehanna was leaving the country to join or further support the jihad himself," said a blogger known as Rusty Shackleford, on the popular Jawa Report website he runs that monitors terrorism investigations.
Citing the ongoing case, the FBI and federal prosecutors would not comment for this article, only referring to the federal indictment.
It is clear that Mehanna did not help his case by openly supporting controversial figures such as Aafia Siddiqui, the Pakistani woman who was on the FBI's Most Wanted List before she was arrested last year on charges of shooting at a US soldier in Afghanistan. A 1995 MIT graduate, Siddiqui reportedly established ties with Al Qaeda during her time in Boston.
In another example of questionable associations, some of the inspiration for Mehanna's writings were prominent fundamentalist figures such as Abdullah Azzam and Sayyid Qutb, who are considered significant influences by Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood, a fundamentalist movement.
Ahhh... now why would anyone suspect that lovely guy - right? A leader of Muslims in Boston, leading them to what exactly? I commend the author of this article for going beyond the "Community" claims and presenting some undeniable facts about this guy. He might not be found guilty in court, but he sure isn't innocent of supporting terrorism in his recorded free-speech. That's not a felony - it is a remarkable Cain mark on his forehead though.