[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit [official website] on Wednesday upheld the 2011 conviction [opinion] of Tarek Mehanna, who was found guilty on four terror-related charges and three charges of lying to authorities. Mehenna was accused of traveling to Yemen and training in a terror camp with the intention of traveling to Iraq to fight against American troops. When he returned to the US was accused of providing material support to al Qaeda. Mehanna’s lawyers claimed that his actions, which included translating pro-al Qaeda materials and encouraging others to join al Qaeda, amounted to free speech, and that there was no evidence of any further terrorist activity. The appeals court upheld the conviction, finding:
Terrorism is the modern-day equivalent of the bubonic plague: it is an existential threat. Predictably, then, the government’s efforts to combat terrorism through the enforcement of the criminal laws will be fierce. Sometimes, those efforts require a court to patrol the fine line between vital national security concerns and forbidden encroachments on constitutionally protected freedoms of speech and association. This is such a case.
The opinion discussed the emotionally-charged nature of the case and praised the work of the lawyers and the judge in the District Court, ultimately proclaiming that Mehanna had received a fair trial. Mehanna’s charges and his sentence of 17.5 years in prison were upheld.
Many cases involving al Qaeda operatives are making their way through the US judicial system. In October suspected terrorist Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai [JURIST report] was charged in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website]. In March Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, the son-in-law of Osama Bin Laden, was captured [JURIST report] and thereafter indicted in federal court for plotting to kill Americans. In January the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit vacated the conspiracy conviction [JURIST report] of Ali Hamza Ahmad Suliman Al Bahlul, Osama bin Laden’s media secretary. In October 2012 Egyptian-born Muslim cleric Abu Hamza Al Masri pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to 11 criminal charges. His charges included taking hostages, providing material support to terrorist groups, including al Qaeda, and conspiring to do such acts. He made his first appearance in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York after being extradited from the UK. Osama Bin Laden was killed [JURIST report] by US military personnel in 2011.