The FBI arrested Tarek Mehanna on charges he lied to investigators only after agents failed in their efforts to persuade the Sudbury man to become a confidential informant about terrorist activities, his lawyer said yesterday during a court hearing.
Mehanna, 26, of Sudbury, was arrested Nov. 8 at Logan International Airport before his departure to Saudi Arabia, where he planned to work as a pharmacist.
The FBI alleges Mehanna lied to investigators two years ago, when they were questioning him about Daniel Maldonado, a New Hampshire native and former Methuen resident who was convicted last year of aiding terrorist activities in Somalia.
According to court records, Mehanna told investigators Maldonado was in Egypt when he allegedly knew that his old acquaintance was in Somalia preparing to aid terrorists.
Mehanna has been charged with lying to investigators in a terrorism investigation and faces eight years in prison.
Mehanna's lawyer, J.W. Carney Jr., said yesterday that FBI agents had questioned his client as early as 2005 about a range of activities, including a trip to Yemen he made in 2004. In April, Carney said, investigators told his client that they had built a case against him, based on the alleged lie he made in December 2006, and that they would pursue it if he did not cooperate in other matters.
Carney said yesterday that the comments Mehanna made about Maldonado during the 2006 interview were immaterial compared with the broader investigation the government was pursuing and that the charges were brought only because Mehanna was preparing to leave for Saudi Arabia. Mehanna was not accused of wrongdoing in any other conversation with investigators, he said.
The statements were made during a hearing that will determine whether Mehanna should be held in jail awaiting trial. Prosecutors said Mehanna would be a flight risk, considering his plans to move to Saudi Arabia. Carney argued that his client is an American citizen and would stay to contest the charges.
Milton Valencia can be reached at email@example.com.