By Lauren Keiper
BOSTON (Reuters) - A Massachusetts man accused of supporting militants traveled to Yemen for terrorism training and translated Arabic messages to help further al Qaeda's cause, prosecutors said in Boston federal court on Thursday.
During opening statements in the jury trial of Tarek Mehanna, prosecutors said the defendant answered a call to action from Osama bin Laden to fight and kill American soldiers.
Mehanna, they said, translated videos and texts from Arabic to English from his "cushy bedroom" in the Boston suburbs and widely distributed al Qaeda's message of jihad over the internet.
Although he failed to obtain terrorism training during a 2004 trip to Yemen, prosecutors said he viewed himself as part of the media wing of al Qaeda and conspired with others to support the organization.
Mehanna, 29, of Sudbury, Massachusetts has been charged with "providing material support to terrorists" and other crimes, including conspiracy to kill in a foreign country and lying to law enforcement officers.
If convicted, he faces a possible sentence of life in prison on the most serious charge.
Prosecutors said Mehanna provided vital skills and services to al Qaeda, a known terrorist organization.
They said witnesses who will testify against him include Mehanna's friend Daniel Maldonado, a New Hampshire man now serving a 10-year sentence for getting al Qaeda military training.
The defense said Mehanna was an American citizen guilty of nothing more than trying to explore his Muslim background and Islam.
He studied Islamic law and on his own initiative translated classical texts from Arabic to English. He traveled to Yemen to visit schools where he one day hoped to continue his studies, defense attorneys said.
He also spoke openly and often about his belief that the United States military should not be in Iraq and even expressed admiration for Osama bin Laden's efforts to get foreign powers out of Muslim countries, the defense said.
"He didn't hide his beliefs, he wore them on his sleeve," said defense attorney J.W. Carney, Jr.
Mehanna was not hired, ordered, directed or paid by al Qaeda, Carney said.
He was born in Pennsylvania but grew up in Sudbury, a suburb west of Boston, and graduated with a doctorate from the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.
Prosecutors showed video clips with images of Osama bin Laden that Mehanna translated with English subtitles as part of their opening statement.
The defense displayed family photos of a younger Mehanna, a typical American kid playing baseball and sitting on Santa's lap.
Mehanna had been living at home with his parents when he was arrested in 2008. The trial was expected to continue for six or seven weeks.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune)