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Massachusetts man convicted of aiding al Qaeda to be sentenced

By Daniel Lovering

BOSTON (Reuters) - Prosecutors contend that a Massachusetts man convicted of conspiring to support al Qaeda should serve at least 25 years in prison but defense lawyers said their client's actions hurt no one, according to court filings before his sentencing on Thursday.

Tarek Mehanna, 29, was found guilty in December on all seven charges against him, including four related to terrorism. He faces a maximum penalty of life in prison when he is sentenced by Judge George O'Toole in U.S. District Court in Boston on Thursday.

Mehanna, of Sudbury, Massachusetts was arrested in 2009 and charged with "providing material support to terrorists." He was also charged with conspiracy to kill in a foreign country and lying to law enforcement officers.

Prosecutors said Mehanna answered a call to action from Osama bin Laden to fight U.S. soldiers. They said he traveled to Yemen in 2004 to seek terrorism training, but never received it, and planned to travel to Iraq to fight U.S. troops.

They also accused him of translating videos and texts from Arabic to English and distributing them on the Internet to further al Qaeda's cause.

But defense attorneys argued that Mehanna, a U.S. citizen, was "a typical American kid" trying to learn about his Muslim heritage by studying Islamic law and translating classical texts. He traveled to Yemen to visit schools where he hoped to study, they said.

Mehanna openly opposed the U.S. military presence in Iraq and showed admiration for bin Laden's efforts to expel foreign powers from Muslim countries, defense attorneys said. But he never worked for al Qaeda or had direct contact with the group, they said.

In a request this week for a lenient sentence, defense attorneys said in court documents that Mehanna deserved no more than 63 to 78 months in prison, given his "very low risk of recidivism" and favorable personal history and characteristics, among other factors.

They said no one was harmed as a result of his conduct and cited letters from family and friends that described him as kind, thoughtful and caring.

Federal prosecutors, meanwhile, argued for a prison sentence of at least 25 years, repeating in court documents this week earlier claims that Mehanna served as al Qaeda's "media wing" by translating recruitment materials and was intent on killing American soldiers.

They said he "lived a double life," appearing to his family and community as "a dutiful and scholarly young man, but to his close friends and online contacts, he was a proponent of violence as a means of achieving political goals."

The 25-year prison term should be followed by supervised release for as long as Mehanna remains in the United States, prosecutors argued in court documents.

Mehanna was born in Pennsylvania but grew up in Sudbury, a suburb west of Boston, and holds a doctorate degree from the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.

Mehanna, who did not testify at his trial, wrote his own letter to Judge O'Toole and described how two arrests by the FBI dashed his hopes for dream jobs, one an offer to establish a diabetes clinic for King Fahd Medical City in Saudi Arabia and the other a teaching position he held at an Islamic private school, apparently in the United States.

(Editing By Barbara Goldberg and Vicki Allen)

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