WASHINGTON — Federal authorities on Wednesday charged a
Boston-area man with conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists as
part of a plot to “kill, kidnap, maim or injure” people — including
U.S. officials — overseas and in the United States.
Prosecutors and FBI agents said that from 2001 to 2008,
Tarek Mehanna, 27, of Sudbury, Mass., conspired with at least two men to carry
out an Islamist holy war, or jihad. That included discussions about killing two
prominent U.S. politicians, attacking American troops in Iraq and shooting at
shoppers in U.S. malls, according to those authorities and detailed FBI
affidavits that were unsealed Wednesday in connection with the case.
The charges against Mehanna were announced by the acting
U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, Michael K. Loucks, and Warren T. Bamford, the
FBI special agent in charge of the Boston field office.
Mehanna was arrested Wednesday at his parents’ home in
Sudbury, an upscale suburb west of Boston. A federal judge ordered him held
over until an Oct. 30 hearing after Mehanna — described as a pharmacy college
graduate — initially refused to stand to hear the charges against him.
According to prosecutors and two lengthy FBI affidavits
filed in support of the charges, the three men discussed their desire to
participate in “violent jihad against American interests” and
“to die on the battlefield.”
Mehanna had “multiple conversations about obtaining
automatic weapons and randomly shooting people in shopping malls,” Loucks
said, adding that their plan was thwarted when they could get only handguns,
not the automatic weapons that they believed necessary for an attack at a mall.
One senior federal law enforcement official said the alleged
conspiracy was not nearly as far along, or as “operational,” as one
allegedly headed by a Denver-area Afghan native, Najibullah Zazi.
Zazi, 24, was arrested in September and charged with
training with al-Qaida in Pakistan and conspiring with others to detonate
homemade explosive devices on U.S. soil, possibly New York-area transit hubs.
Federal authorities said the new investigation is part of a
nationwide hunt for individuals in the U.S. who are going to Somalia to fight
with al-Qaida-linked militants trying to overthrow the U.S.-backed government
Dozens of men in the United States, mostly Somali nationals,
are suspected of supporting that effort, either through funding and recruitment
or by traveling to Somalia to engage in combat and guerrilla activities,
according to several senior FBI and Justice Department officials.
If convicted on the material support charge, Mehanna faces
as many as 15 years in prison. His attorney was identified as J.W. Carney Jr.,
who was not available for immediate comment.
Authorities in Boston said Mehanna sought, but never
received, training in terrorist camps despite several trips overseas. They
identified one alleged co-conspirator as Ahman Abousamra, who is now believed
to be in Syria.
Abousamra committed a felony several years ago by lying to
FBI agents conducting a broad counterterrorism investigation into U.S. support
for Somali militants, the court documents said.
The complaint also alleges that the men attempted to
radicalize others and inspire each other by, among other things, watching and
distributing jihad videos. Authorities alleged that Mehanna and two associates
traveled to the Middle East in February 2004, seeking military-type training at
a terrorist camp that would prepare them for armed jihad against U.S.
interests, including U.S. and allied forces in Iraq. It also said one of
Mehanna’s co-conspirators made two similar trips to Pakistan in 2002.
Sometime in recent years the alleged plot escalated,
according to the complaint and affidavits, and Mehanna and the co-conspirators
had multiple conversations about obtaining automatic weapons and randomly
shooting people in a mall.
Authorities said the conversations went as far as discussing
the logistics of a mall attack, including coordination, weapons needed and the
possibility of attacking emergency responders.
At a news conference, authorities would not say which, if
any, malls had been targeted by the men. They also would not provide details
about which politicians allegedly were targeted but suggested that they were
members of the executive branch who are no longer in office. They also declined
to provide details about any potential attacks on U.S. troops stationed in
They also did not identify another alleged conspirator who
appears to be cooperating in the investigation. FBI agents were assisted by two
undercover informants who wore wiretaps and taped many conversations with
Mehanna and Abousamra over the years.
According to the court filings, Mehanna was a U.S. citizen
who was indicted in November and charged with lying to the FBI in its 2006
investigation of Daniel Joseph Maldonado. Mehanna told the FBI that the
Texas-based Maldonado was living in Egypt when Mehanna knew that he was in
Somalia training with al-Qaida-affiliated militants, the court documents
While he was in Somalia, Maldonado called Mehanna and urged
him to join him in “training for jihad,” authorities said Wednesday.
They said Mehanna and his conspirators also contacted Maldonado about how to
get automatic weapons for their planned mall attacks.
Maldonado, who is serving a 10-year prison sentence,
assisted the FBI in gathering evidence against Mehanna, according to court