An American in prison for training at a terrorist camp in Somalia testified Thursday that a fellow American accused of plotting to help al-Qaida told him that he would fight U.S. soldiers in Iraq, if given the chance.
Daniel Maldonado took the witness stand Thursday in the trial of Tarek Mehanna, a Sudbury, Mass., man charged with plotting to provide material support to al-Qaida and unsuccessfully attempting to get training at a terrorist camp in Yemen. Mehanna then allegedly began helping al-Qaida by translating and distributing online texts and videos promoting violent jihad.
Mehanna, 29, also is charged with lying to the FBI in December 2006 when asked about the whereabouts of Maldonado, a Pelham, N.H., native.
Mehanna's lawyers say he went to Yemen for religious study, not to receive terrorist training. They say his translation of Arabic texts and online activities are protected by the First Amendment right to free speech and expression.
Maldonado testified against Mehanna as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors that he said spared him a life sentence. He pleaded guilty to receiving military-style training from a terrorist organization, al-Qaida, and is serving a 10-year sentence.
On Thursday, Maldonado pointed and smiled at Mehanna when asked to identify him. He said the two men became "best friends" after they met in 2002 or 2003 and often watched what he called "inspirational" jihadist videos at Mehanna's home.
Mehanna reacted "with an air of pleasure" while watching the videos, and they often talked about their hope to participate in jihad, Maldonado said.
Maldonado said Mehanna also said the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States were "justified" because the same thing has happened to Muslims around the world. He said Mehanna also said of the Sept. 11 attacks: "The benefit outweighed the loss, then therefore it was permissible."
Authorities said Wednesday that Mehanna and his conspirators had contacted Maldonado about getting automatic weapons for planned mall attacks, but he told them he could only get handguns.
Maldonado was expected to continue testifying on Friday.