Witness in Mass. man’s trial says group discussed mall attack, shooting Ashcroft, Rice

BOSTON — A former friend of a Massachusetts man accused of conspiring to help al-Qaida testified Monday that they traveled overseas with a third friend to try to get into a terrorist training camp.

Kareem Abu-zahra, testifying in the trial of Tarek Mehanna (TEH’-rek meh-HAH’-nah), said the men also discussed shooting people at a shopping mall, attacking an Air Force base and shooting prominent U.S. officials. Abu-zahra, testifying under a grant of immunity from prosecution, said he, Mehanna and another friend, Ahmad Abousamra, made a trip overseas in 2004.

Prosecutors allege that after Mehanna tried unsuccessfully to get terrorist training in Yemen, he began translating and distributing materials over the Internet promoting violent jihad. Mehanna, 29, of Sudbury, has pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to support a terrorist organization, conspiracy to kill in a foreign country and lying to the FBI.

Mehanna’s lawyers say he went to Yemen in 2004 to look for religious schools, not to seek terrorist training. They say his online activities are protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and that he never worked at the direction of al-Qaida.