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Witness says Mass. men discussed mall shooting

By Denise Lavoie
AP Legal Affairs Writer / November 28, 2011
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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.

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.

Abu-zahra, testifying under a grant of immunity from prosecution, said he, Mehanna and another friend, Ahmad Abousamra, made a trip overseas in 2004.

"We went there for the purpose of finding a terrorist training camp," he said.

Abu-zahra was not asked Monday about what happened on the trip to Yemen, but during earlier testimony in the trial, a witness said Abu-zahra returned to the United States after a stop in the United Arab Emirates when he received a call saying his father was ill. Prosecutors have said that Mehanna and Abousamra went to Yemen looking for a camp, but were unable to find one. Authorities have said the men wanted to get training so they could go to Iraq to fight against U.S. soldiers.

"Eventually, the goal was to get into Iraq," Abu-zahra testified.

Abousamra was also charged, but he fled to Syria and remains a fugitive.

Abu-zahra said he, Mehanna and Abousamra, along with another friend, Hassan Masood, would get together and have religious discussions.

He said the men "celebrated" the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States and believed America was not justified in invading Afghanistan after the attacks.

After the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, the men talked about their desire to participate in jihad, or holy war, against the U.S.

"We felt our blood boiling. We wanted to do something," he said.

Abu-zahra said they discussed participating in a domestic terrorism attack, including shooting shoppers at a mall, attacking Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford, Mass., and shooting some political leaders.

Abu-zahra said Abousamra mentioned that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was coming to Boston soon and said, "Just imagine if somebody shot her." He said Mehanna was not present for that conversation.

He said Mehanna was present for a brief conversation about a "fantasy" of shooting former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft.

He said the men talked about how Ashcroft was religious and they could "get him in church." Abu-zahra did not make clear whether Mehanna voiced any opinion about the discussion.

Ashcroft and Rice were mentioned because they were the "big mouthpieces" for the "war on Islam," Abu-zahra said.

Abu-zahra said the men had two or three conversations about attacking an unspecified shopping mall.

"We just discussed it as kind of a way to kind of create terror, that was the goal," he said.

In early testimony during the trial, another friend, Daniel Spaulding, testified that Mehanna opposed killing civilians in the United States and had called the shopping mall attack "silly."

Abu-zahra said the men never took any of the domestic terror plans to a higher level where they were actually going to wage an attack.

Abu-zahra, of Lynnfield, is expected to continue his testimony Tuesday.

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.

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