BOSTON: A U.S. man was sentenced to more than 17 years in prison Thursday for conspiring to help al-Qaida, in a case his defense had argued was a free speech issue.
Federal prosecutors objected to the sentence after seeking a 25-year term for Tarek Mehanna, who they said was angry and defiant in his address to the court. The 29-year-old called one prosecutor a "liar" and said he sympathizes with oppressed people in their fight against their oppressors.
Mehanna had faced up to life in prison under federal sentencing guidelines
The defense said it planned to appeal.
Mehanna, who grew up in a wealthy Boston suburb, 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.
He was sentenced on four terror-related charges and three counts of lying to authorities.
Mehanna's attorneys portrayed him as an aspiring scholar of Islam who traveled to Yemen to look for religious schools. They said his translation and distribution of controversial publications was free speech protected by the First Amendment.
Prosecutors focused on hundreds of online chats on Mehanna's computer in which they said he and his friends talked about their desire to participate in jihad, or holy war.
Mehanna's lawyers acknowledged that he expressed admiration for Osama bin Laden but said he disagreed with bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders about many things, including the use of suicide bombers and the killing of civilians
During his sentencing hearing, Mehanna said federal officials asked him to become an informant and told him he could end up being treated harshly if he didn't do so.
When a prosecutor offered a rebuttal, Mehanna said, "You're a liar. Sit down. You're a liar."