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Shocked and dismayed; Accused terrorist taught at Alhuda Academy.

Byline: Bronislaus B. Kush; Linda Bock

WORCESTER - Boston television crews were preparing to broadcast live last evening from Alhuda Academy on the latest news concerning a teacher charged in a terrorist plot when a young man slowed his sport utility vehicle and rolled down the window.

"Is this the place where they train terrorists to kill Americans?" he asked the cameramen before pulling away.

Similar scenes were repeated outside the East Mountain Street school during the course of the day after word spread of the arrest of Tarek Mehanna, who is accused by federal authorities of plotting to kill soldiers, mall shoppers, and politicians.

The arrest has prompted fear of possible retaliation among area Muslims.

"There's no question that there is a climate of fear building in our community as a result of this arrest," said Tahir Ali, a longtime spokesman for local Muslims. "There are some who are worried that all Muslims will be viewed as terrorists."

The 27-year-old Mr. Mehanna, who taught science and religion to middle-schoolers at the academy, was arrested Wednesday at his parents' Sudbury home.

According to court documents and federal officials, Mr. Mehanna was allegedly part of a conspiracy between 2001 and 2008 that intended to kill, kidnap, maim, or injure soldiers and two unidentified politicians who were members of the executive branch but are no longer in office.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Boston said the men also planned attacks at malls because U.S. civilians pay taxes to support the government and are "nonbelievers."

Mr. Mehanna's friends and family, including his father, Ahmed Mehanna, a professor at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, were shocked to see him depicted as a would-be terrorist

"No, definitely not," said the elder Mr. Mehanna, when he was asked whether he believed the charges against his son.

News trucks started to line the front of the academy early in the day yesterday and school officials quickly blocked off the parking lot with orange cones. Workers from two security companies were observed checking doors and the alarm system.

Worcester police were called by the school to disperse the gathering media. A police officer dispatched to the school told reporters not to trespass on school property and not to block the driveways.

Imam Abdul Karim, the spiritual leader of the local mosque, appeared from behind closed doors around 2:30 p.m. to deliver a statement. He declined to answer questions and asked reporters to leave because he said the cameras were making students nervous.

The pre-kindergarten through eighth grade academy is located at the Worcester Islamic Center complex. The three-story center has a school, gymnasium and prayer hall and can hold approximately 1,700 people.

Simo Lulvsfiya arrived at the school-mosque and said he was there to say prayers, which he does a few times a week. He said he has never noticed anything unusual at the facility.

Mr. Lulvsfiya said he was "absolutely" afraid about retaliatory action.

"Hearing things like that is never a good thing," Mr. Lulvsfiya said. "It's never a good thing to hate anyone regardless of their religion. I don't hate anybody - I am an American."

A woman was in the school all morning monitoring the front doors. She declined to give her name because she said she was afraid. The woman said the school is a wonderful institution with good teachers and about 120 students.

She said school officials conduct criminal background checks on all teachers hired. According to the woman, Mr. Mehanna had taught at the school for a month.

"Who's going to put `terrorist' on their resume?" she asked.

School officials, under pressure from media inquiries, issued a statement in the afternoon.

They said Mr. Mehanna "exhibited nothing but excellent manners and conduct" and that they "conducted due diligence" in evaluating his qualifications and background.

School officials said they first heard of the charges yesterday morning and said they were shocked and dismayed by the allegations made in the indictment.

"The school and its administration are confident in the fairness of our country's judicial system, the principle of due process, and the presumption of innocence," the statement said. "We would like to take this opportunity to condemn all violence perpetrated or contemplated against innocent civilians. This condemnation is required by our faith as Muslims, and our every experience with Tarek Mehanna suggests to us that he shared this belief."

Some prominent area Muslims did not return phone calls from the Telegram & Gazette seeking comment.

However, the leadership of the Worcester Islamic Center, through Imam Karim, released a statement, expressing shock over Mr. Mehanna's arrest.

"Our community has always opposed any actions that violate the law, or endanger the lives of innocent people. As Muslims, we condemn the planning or committing of any acts of violence," the statement said.

It added that the center's leadership is "particularly horrified by the prospect of random violence against ourselves, our friends, and our neighbors in public areas."

"Violence and aggression in any way, shape or form is absolutely against the teachings of Islam that we uphold," said the statement. "Muslims in (the) greater Worcester area have been peaceful and law abiding citizens for more than 50 years. We stand by the judicial system. We are confident that the truth of these matters will surface in due course, and that justice will be served."

It is unclear when Mr. Mehanna last taught at Alhuda.

Local Muslims said they believed Mr. Mehanna was a member of the Islamic Center of Boston in Wayland.

Mr. Mehanna is charged with conspiring with two others - Ahmad Abousamra, an American now in Syria, and an unidentified man who is cooperating with authorities - to support terrorism.

Authorities say they never got the terrorist training they sought. The men told friends they were turned down because of their nationality, ethnicity or inexperience, or that the people they'd hoped would get them into such camps were either in jail or on a religious pilgrimage.

According to a court affidavit, Mr. Mehanna told a friend that, in the United States, he feels "like a fish out of water." Federal officials said Mr. Mehanna talked extensively of a desire to "die on the battlefield."

Mr. Mehanna, who is alleged in court documents to have traveled to Yemen in 2004 in an attempt to join a terrorist training camp, was first arrested in November and charged with lying to the FBI in December 2006 when asked the whereabouts of Daniel Maldonado, who is now serving a 10-year prison sentence for training with al-Qaida to overthrow the Somali government.

Authorities said Wednesday that Mr. Mehanna and the other alleged conspirators had contacted Mr. Maldonado about getting automatic weapons for their planned mall attacks, but he told them he could only get handguns.

Worcester Police Chief Gary J. Gemme would not comment on whether his department played a role in the investigation, but said one of his detectives is assigned to the Joint Terrorism Task Force.

Scott J. Croteau and Steven H. Foskett Jr. of the Telegram & Gazette staff contributed to this report.


CUTLINE: (1) Television trucks line up Thursday outside Alhuda Academy on East Mountain Street, preparing for live broadcasts. (2) Imam Abdul Karim distributes a press release Thursday outside the Alhuda Academy on East Mountain Street. (3) Mr. Mehanna

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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Oct 23, 2009
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