Tarek Mehanna, a young Boston-area man who traveled to Yemen in search of terror training in 2004 and later used the Internet to spread Al Qaeda’s message, was sentenced today in federal court to 17 1/2 years in prison, after delivering a defiant speech in court proclaiming his love of Islam and his anger at the United States.
Mehanna, a 29-year-old pharmacy college graduate from comfortable suburban Sudbury, was sentenced by US District Judge George A. O’Toole.
“I am frankly concerned by the defendant’s apparent absence of remorse, notwithstanding the jury’s verdict,” O’Toole said.
O’Toole said Mehanna had a “strong and magnetic personality,” and some of his characteristics were “noble and praiseworthy,” but there was also something “horrifying” about him and, as he reviewed the case, “the horrifying came into dominance.”
O’Toole also sentenced Mehanna to seven years of supervised release.
Supporters attending the hearing cheered and applauded, shouting, “We love you, Tarek!” as he was led out of the courtroom.
Mehanna, a 29-year-old pharmacy college graduate from comfortable suburban Sudbury, was convicted in December.
“The crimes the defendant have been convicted of are among the most significant in the criminal justice system,” said federal prosecutor Aloke Chakravarty, arguing for a 25-year sentence. “When you aspire to take up arms against your country, it deserves severe penalties.”
“We don’t know how many people this defendant radicalized, who he has wound up and sent along their way,” Chakravarty said.
“The damage he has done will linger with us,” Chakravarty said. “What the defendant will do after he gets out of jail one can only guess. We hope for the best.”
Chakravarty said Mehanna had a “perverted interpretation of a great faith.”
Mehanna’s attorneys, who had asked for a sentence of no more than 6 1/2 years, had described him as a young man who saw things in “black and white” when the conspiracy began. They also argued he had a First Amendment right to oppose US wars abroad, and emphasized that he never actually engaged in violence.
But Mehanna eschewed all those arguments when he delivered his own statement to the judge, saying he would not plead for leniency.
Holding up a picture of an Iraqi girl who was raped by American soldiers, he said, “How can someone not be angry when they hear something like that?”
Describing himself as a “very proud Muslim,” Mehanna said he had learned that throughout history there had been a struggle between the oppressed and the oppressor.
He said he had sided with the oppressed, calling the suffering of Muslims caused by the United States no different than colonial Americans suffering at the hands of the English.
Clashing with a prosecutor who objected to one of his statements, Mehanna shouted, “You’re a liar. … Sit down!”
“I wasn’t tried before a jury of my peers because, with the mentality of America today, I don’t have any peers,” Mehanna said.
“In your eyes, I am a terrorist. … But history will repeat itself, and America will change,” he said, comparing himself with Paul Revere and Nelson Mandela.
O’Toole had said earlier in the hearing that he would not order a life sentence for Mehanna. He noted that federal sentencing guidelines called for a sentence of life — “literally off the charts” — and said, “This will be a sentence in years.”
Mehanna traveled to Yemen in 2004 seeking terrorism training so that he could carry out jihad, or holy war, against US soldiers in Iraq. He failed to find a camp, but returned and deliberately helped Al Qaeda by promoting its ideology on the Internet, posting videos and documents glorifying jihad.
Mehanna was convicted of charges of conspiracy to provide material support or resources to a foreign terror organization, conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, providing and attempting to provide material support to terorists, conspiracy to kill in a foreign country, conspiracy to lie to federal investigators, and two counts of lying to federal investigators.
Mehanna had attracted significant support from the Muslim community and civil rights groups. Supporters sent more than 100 pages of letters to the judge and US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz, pleading for leniency.
A number of Mehanna supporters attended the hearing. Many wore “Free Tarek” T-shirts but were told they couldn’t wear them in the courtroom. The courtroom overflowed with people and a second room was used to accommodate them.
O’Toole said he didn’t relish the task of sentencing, but it was his responsibility. He said he was no monarch, but acted with input from the probation department, the parties in the case, and the intent of Congress.
Before the hearing, Mehanna seemed relaxed, smiling at lawyers, waving to family. “I’m good,” he whispered to one family member. His mother told him, “I love you.” During the hearing, Mehanna sometimes stared at the judge, sometimes leaned back in his chair with his eyes closed, and sometimes bit his lip.
In an unexpected moment of drama, defense attorney Janice Bassil told O’Toole that a juror would like to address the court, but O’Toole refused to hear the juror’s statement and refused to let Bassil recount the juror’s statement.
O’Toole also denied a request by Mehanna’s parents, Ahmed and Saoud, to make a statement to the court, saying that was always his policy. He noted that he had received letters from them and from the defendant’s brother. “I assure them they’ve been heard,” he said.
John R. Ellement of the Globe staff contributed to this report.