Tarek Mehanna grew up in Boston's upscale suburbs, earned a doctorate in pharmacology, taught religion and math at a Muslim middle school and was considered a typical American kid by those who knew him. Yet Mehanna, who had Egyptian and U.S. citizenship, told a friend he felt out of place in America, according to documents filed in court. And prosecutors say he used his hostility toward this country in a plot to kill U.S. troops in Iraq, assassinate top politicians and shoot down shoppers in U.S. malls.
Mehanna, 27, was arrested early Wednesday at his parents' home in Sudbury, an affluent town around 20 miles west of Boston. He was 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.
Ultimately, the trio never came close to pulling off an attack. 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.
They abandoned the mall attack plans after their weapons contact said he could find only handguns, not automatic weapons, authorities said.
Mehanna's friends were shocked to see him depicted him as a would-be terrorist.
"He's not going to go crazy in a mall. There's no way he would do something like that," said Rola Yaghmour, 20, of Shrewsbury. "I read it and I was laughing, and I was like, 'They have to be kidding.' Because there's no way he would do something like that. It makes no sense."
Dr. Abdul Cader Asmal, a family friend who was president of the Islamic Center of Boston in Wayland when Mehanna was a middle school student attending weekly religious education classes, remembered him because they shared an interest in Superman. He said Mehanna would bring comics to show in class.
"He looked like a fun-loving, ordinary, typical American kid," said Asmal, an internist at Massachusetts General Hospital. "Certainly there was no hint at all that there was anything at all that would go awry in his behavior at that point."
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