- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 22, 2009

A 27-year-old Massachusetts man with dreams of holy war plotted to shoot up a shopping mall and even discussed assassinating U.S. government officials, authorities said Wednesday.

But there appear to be stark differences between Tarek Mehanna’s aspirations and his abilities.

Authorities said his plot to kill shoppers at a mall failed to materialize after he couldn’t get his hands on the needed guns, and his hopes of receiving training from al Qaeda collapsed when he traveled to Yemen in 2004 only to learn that the terrorist camps there had packed up years earlier.

Mr. Mehanna, who lives with his parents in Sudbury, Mass., a wealthy suburb about 20 miles west of Boston, was charged with conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists. He faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted of that charge.

Still, Ken Piernick, a retired FBI agent who worked on terrorism cases, said malls can be easy targets even for amateurish terrorists.



“This is something that we’ve been looking at for a long time,” he said. “It’s not that difficult because of the security in most malls is terribly inadequate.”

Mr. Piernick said potential attackers have a variety of options to carry out successful plots - anything from guns to car bombs - and that it’s just a matter of “time or probability” before terror groups succeed in a major attack on a U.S. mall.

According to the Associated Press, Mr. Mehanna, a pharmacy student, appeared defiant at a hearing Wednesday in federal court in Boston. He initially refused to stand when a judge ordered him to, but did so after his father urged him - tossing his chair loudly to the floor as he stood.

“This really, really is a show,” his father, Ahmed Mehanna, told reporters after the hearing.

The elder Mr. Mehanna is a professor at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy, the school his son attends. When asked whether he thought his son was guilty of the charges against him, he said, “No, definitely not.”

It’s the second time in a year that Mr. Mehanna has been charged in a terror-related case. Last year, he was accused in a separate case of lying about conversations he had with another would-be jihadist.

In the case announced Wednesday, authorities said Mr. Mehanna and others - including Ahmad Abousamra, who is thought to be living in Syria - conspired from 2001 to 2008 to commit acts of terrorism. They would watch propaganda videos of terrorists killing American soldiers and made plans to unleash their own holy war.

Impressed by the D.C. snipers in 2002, authorities said, Mr. Mehanna and others discussed attacking a shopping mall and reasoned that killing civilians would be justified because they paid taxes to the government and were nonbelievers of Islam.

Mr. Mehanna went to obtain automatic weapons from a man named Daniel Maldonado, but abandoned the plot after Maldonado could get them only handguns.

Maldonado is serving a 10-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to receiving military training from al Qaeda in 2006 in Somalia. He told investigators that he moved to the African nation to engage in holy war and to receive weapons and explosives training.

Mr. Mehanna was first arrested last year after authorities said he lied to them about Maldonado’s whereabouts when he was in Somalia. According to court records, Mr. Mehanna told authorities that Maldonado was in Egypt, even though he knew that wasn’t true.

“I don’t know how the heck I’m going to explain that one,” Mr. Mehanna told an informant. “I don’t remember if he said the word Somalia on the phone, but that’s a problem because, like, lying to them in and of itself is a crime.”

He also told an informant that he and Maldonado would use code words during phone conversations such as “making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.” Mr. Mehanna said that phrase meant “I’m here fighting,” according to court documents.

Mr. Mehanna and Mr. Abousamra traveled to Yemen in 2004 in search of terrorist training camps, authorities said. They wanted to go to Iraq to kill U.S. soldiers, authorities said.

But the trip was a failure. According to court records, Mr. Mehanna told an FBI informant later that they couldn’t find the people they wanted to see - half were on pilgrimages to Mecca while the other half were in jail.

The one man they did find to help them receive terrorist training said “all that stuff’s gone ever since the planes hit the Twin Towers” in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Authorities say Mr. Mehanna also discussed killing two members of the U.S. government’s executive branch, though authorities would not specify which two. There is no evidence that Mr. Mehanna took any steps toward this plan.

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