Mass. man convicted in plot to help al-Qaida sentenced to 17 1/2 years

BOSTON — A Massachusetts man convicted of conspiring to help al-Qaida was sentenced Thursday to 17½ years in prison after giving an impassioned speech in which he declared his love for Islam and said, “This is not terrorism; it’s self-defense.”

Tarek Mehanna, 29, an American who grew up in the wealthy Boston suburb of Sudbury, was found guilty in December of traveling to Yemen to seek training in a terrorist camp with the intention of going on to Iraq to fight U.S. soldiers there. Prosecutors said that when that plan failed, Mehanna returned to the United States and began translating and disseminating materials online promoting violent jihad.

Mehanna was sentenced on four terror-related charges and three counts of lying to authorities. His family and supporters gave him a standing ovation and called out “we love you” as he was led from the courtroom.

During the sentencing hearing, Mehanna gave a sweep of history and compared the suffering experienced by Muslims at the hands of Americans to the oppression inflicted on American colonists by the British. He mentioned Paul Revere, Malcolm X and Nelson Mandela, among others, and said he came to appreciate the plight of the oppressed against their oppressors as a 6-year-old boy reading comic books.