BOSTON – A pharmacy college graduate conspired with two other men on a terror plot to kill two prominent U.S. politicians and carry out a holy war by attacking shoppers in U.S. malls and American troops in Iraq, prosecutors said Wednesday.
But their plans – in which the men used code words like “peanut butter and jelly” for fighting in Somalia and “culinary school” for terrorist camps – were thwarted in part when they could not find training and were unable to buy automatic weapons, authorities said.
Tarek Mehanna worked with the men from 2001 to May 2008 on the conspiracy to “kill, kidnap, maim or injure” soldiers and two politicians who were members of the executive branch but are no longer in office, authorities said, refusing to identify the politicians. Mehanna was arrested Wednesday morning at his parents’ home in Sudbury, an upscale suburb 20 miles (32 kilometres) west of Boston.
Prosecutors said the 27-year-old Mehanna – a graduate of the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy in Boston, where his father is a professor – conspired with two other men: Ahmad Abousamra, who authorities say is now in Syria, and an unnamed man, who is co-operating with authorities in the investigation.
The three men often discussed their desire to participate in “violent jihad against American interests” and talked about “their desire to die on the battlefield,” prosecutors said.
Authorities say when they were unable to successfully link up with terror groups in Iraq, Yemen and Pakistan, they turned their interests to domestic terror pursuits and began plotting the attack on shopping malls.
Mehanna had “multiple conversations about obtaining automatic weapons and randomly shooting people in shopping malls,” Acting U.S. Attorney Michael Loucks said. Prosecutors would not say which malls had been targeted.
Court documents filed by the government say that in 2002 or 2003, Abousamra became frustrated after repeatedly being rejected to join terror groups in Pakistan – first Lashkar e Tayyiba and then the Taliban.
“Because Abousamra was an Arab (not Pakistani) the LeT camp would not accept him, and because of Abousamra’s lack of experience, the Taliban camp would not accept him,” according to an affidavit by FBI agent Heidi Williams.
Mehanna and Abousamra travelled to Yemen in 2004 in an attempt to join a terrorist training camp.
Mehanna allegedly told a friend, the third conspirator who is now co-operating with authorities, that their trip was a failure because they were unable to reach people affiliated with the camps. The men, who had allegedly received tips on whom to meet from a person identified in court documents as “Individual A,” said half the people they wanted to see were on “hajj,” referring to the pilgrimage to Mecca in Islam, and half were in jail.
“They travelled all over the country looking for the people Individual A told them to meet,” authorities allege in the criminal complaint.
The two men later decided they were not going to be able to get terror training in Pakistan and “began exploring other options, including terrorist acts in the United States,” the affidavit said.
Mehanna, a U.S. citizen, was arrested in November and charged with lying to the FBI in December 2006 when asked the whereabouts of Daniel Maldonado, who is now serving a 10-year prison sentence for training with al-Qaida to overthrow the Somali government.
Mehanna told the FBI that Maldonado was living in Egypt and working for a Web site. But authorities said Maldonado had called Mehanna from Somalia urging him to join him in “training for jihad.”
Authorities said Wednesday that Mehanna and his conspirators had contacted Maldonado about getting automatic weapons for their planned mall attacks.
Carney, who represented Mehanna in the previous case, said at the time: “If this is the FBI’s idea of a terrorist, they are using a net that is designed to catch minnows instead of sharks.”
After his arrest, Mehanna developed a cult following among Muslim civil rights groups and Web sites that believed Mehanna was wrongly arrested. Web sites like the London-based cageprisoners.com, a human rights group that advocates for prisoners at Guantanamo bay and other detainees as part of the U.S. war on terror, asked supporters to write Mehanna in prison to keep up his spirits.
The site MuslimMatters.org asked supporters to pray for his release and published a letter they said Mehanna wrote from prison.
In the letter, Mehanna thanked supporters and said he was being treated well.
“I can only think of the countless imprisoned Muslims in the jails of tyrants around the globe and hope that if it is not Allah’s Decree to free them in the near future, that they taste the sweetness that Allah has placed them in prison to taste,” Mehanna wrote.
He signed the letter, “Your brother in the green jumpsuit.”
Associated Press writers Jay Lindsay, Bob Salsberg and Russell Contreras contributed to this report from Boston.