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Jury deliberates fate of man accused of aiding al Qaeda

By Daniel Lovering

BOSTON (Reuters) - A jury on Friday began deliberating the fate of a Massachusetts man accused of supporting al Qaeda by translating texts and videos from Arabic to English and distributing them online.

Tarek Mehanna, 29, of Sudbury, Massachusetts was arrested in 2009 and charged with "providing material support to terrorists" and other crimes, including conspiracy to kill in a foreign country and lying to law enforcement officers.

If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.

During closing arguments on Friday, prosecutors reiterated their claims that Mehanna traveled to Yemen in 2004 to seek terrorism training, but never received it, and had planned to travel to Iraq to fight U.S. troops.

They also said he had translated Arabic messages to help further al Qaeda's cause.

Federal prosecutor Jeffrey Auerhahn said Mehanna was "a man who was motivated by" the leaders of al Qaeda.

But defense attorneys said Mehanna, a U.S. citizen, was merely trying to learn more 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.

"They never gave you the whole story of who Tarek Mehanna was," defense attorney Janice Bassil said of prosecutors. "His ticket to Yemen was round-trip."

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

Defense attorney J.W. Carney Jr. called Mehanna "a typical American kid" who "kind of rediscovered his religion" when he was in high school and began meeting with friends to discuss Islam.

The idea that Mehanna would want to visit schools in Yemen "fit like a hand in a glove with who this man was," he argued.

Among the witnesses in the trial which began on October 28 was one of Mehanna's friends, Daniel Maldonado, a New Hampshire man serving a 10-year sentence for obtaining al Qaeda military training.

The FBI released excerpts of blogs allegedly written by Mehanna about the appeal of martyrdom and transcripts of phone conversations between Mehanna and Maldonado.

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

(Reporting by Daniel Lovering; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Jerry Norton)

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