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How the Government Smeared Tarek Mehanna

(updated below)

Tarek Mehanna, a twenty-nine year old American Muslim pharmacist, was sentenced a few days ago to 17.5 years of incarceration.  Much has been said in the mainstream media about this young man, but few people have taken the time to go through Mehanna’s statements over the years to understand his world view and ideology.

Fortunately, Mehanna has a digital footprint that goes back several years.  Long before he was arrested, Tarek Mehanna operated under the user name Abu Sabaya, posting on internet discussion forums and his own blog.  These postings are of critical (but overlooked) importance, because the government’s case rests on them.  After all, Mehanna was accused of “conspiring to support Al Qaeda” by “taking to the Internet to try to spread the terror group’s message.”

I have browsed Tarek Mehanna’s blog and internet postings, and my conclusion is that the government has smeared this young man in what can only be called defamation of the worst sort.  The three central lies levied against him include:

1) the claim that he justified (and called for) the killing of American civilians;

2) the claim that he plotted to “shoot[] people at a shopping mall.”

3) and the claim that he expressed support for Al-Qaeda, wanted to join Al-Qaeda, and/or was an Al-Qaeda operative.

Going through Mehanna’s statements over the years, which are preserved by the world wide web, I am highly skeptical of the government’s claims against him.  Not only did I not find any postings justifying or calling for the killing of American civilians, I found the exact opposite.  In 2008, long before he was arrested, Mehanna translated and published a fatwa (religious verdict) that categorically forbids the targeting and killing of civilians.

The ruling starts off by noting that Islam forbids punishing a person for the sins of another, and argues that the Prophet Muhammad forbade the targeting and killing of women and children.  It also specifically rejects the argument, raised by none other than Al-Qaeda and her supporters, that it is permitted to kill enemy civilians in retaliation when the enemy (i.e. America and Israel) kills Muslim civilians.  Mehanna’s translation then states that such “extremist” beliefs can neither be rationalized from a religious standpoint nor a military one.  It concludes by claiming that there is a unanimous consensus (ijma) among religious scholars with regard to this prohibition, which all Muslims must consider religiously binding.

Here are key parts of the translation, which Mehanna translated in full on his blog:

A Discussion Regarding the Targeting of Women and Children

“1 – The principles of the Shar’i texts indicate that a man is not to be taken to account for the sins of others, as in the Saying of Allah: {“…and none shall carry the burdens of another…”} [al-An’am; 16]

2 – The Shar’i texts have stringently forbidden targeting the children and women of the polytheists with any type of killing or fighting, no matter what the reasons and causes for doing so, as in the hadith reported by al-Bukhari and others, and narrated by Ibn ‘Umar, that a killed woman was found by the Prophet in one of the battles, and the Prophet forbade the killing of women and children.

And Handhalah said: “We went out for battle with the Messenger of Allah, and we came by a killed woman, and the people had gathered around her. They made way for the Prophet, who said: “This woman was not fighting amongst those who were fighting.” He then said to a man: “Go to Khalid bin al-Walid, and say to him that the Messenger of Allah orders you to say: ‘Do not kill a child, and do not kill the weak.’”“

So, his saying: ‘orders you’ confirms the clearcut prohibition of killing children, and his saying: ‘This woman was not fighting amongst those who were fighting’ is the understanding of opposites, meaning: if she had been fighting, and was amongst those who were fighting, it would be allowed to fight and kill her.

3 – Despite the numerous wars and battles that were fought by the Prophet, his Companions, the Tabi’in who followed them in good from the first three generations – whose virtue was borne witness to by the Prophet – and despite the many wrongdoings and oppressions that the Muslims of these blessed early generations faced, it is not known that either the Prophet, his Companions, or the Tabi’in ever intentionally killed the children or women of the polytheists!

4 – Children are not to be killed, because according to the Shari’ah, they are pure souls…

5 – The noble verse that was used as proof: {“…So, whoever transgresses against you, transgress in a similar manner against him…”} [al-Baqarah; 194] does not contain evidence for what it was being used for [by extremists]

…[I]t is not allowed to steal from someone simply because they stole from you, and it is not allowed to insult the father of someone simply because he insulted yours. And it is not allowed to respond to the one who violates your honor with false accusations and insults by doing the same to him, etc. If you were to do this, you would have exceeded your bounds, and would be considered a wrongdoer, and would have punished someone with the sins of someone else.

Likewise, it is not allowed to respond to one who has killed your child by killing his child. Rather, you are to kill the killer, because if you were to kill his child, you would have killed an innocent life based on the mistake of a completely different person, and this has nothing to do with the legislated form of revenge and retaliation. Rather, it is nothing but excessiveness and oppression! With this, you would have exceeded the limits in revenge and retaliation, and would end up punishing with more than you were punished with!

And there is not a single scholar who permits the killing of the children of a killer in retaliation for his own oppression and killing of the children of others. Rather, there is consensus that only the killer is to be killed.

6 – Regarding this statement that has been put forth [i.e. the extremist ruling permitting the killing of civilians] despite its strangeness and weakness: it is not from proper wisdom or the politics of the Shari’ah to act upon it in our times, or to circulate it. And this is for two reasons:

First: even if it had the Shar’i factors in place that would justify it, if this door were to be opened, the enemy – with its massive military equipment that the Muslims lack – is the one more capable of aggression, and is more capable of bringing down harm upon the Muslims, their children, and their women!

Second: the enemy possesses massive media influence that the Muslims lack…How would [the Muslim] reputation and image be in front of the public [if they killed women and children]? How would the people look at them and their religion? …

In the comments section, someone (let’s call him e-jihadi #1) protested the ruling by reproducing a hadith (Prophetic tradition) in which Muhammad supposedly permitted the killing of civilians.  Tarek Mehanna himself rebutted this argument, saying:

These ahadith are in regards to accidental deaths (i.e. collateral damage). This is quite different from deliberately targeting them, which is expressly forbidden in Islam.

When e-jihadi #2 expressed support for killing civilians, Mehanna not only rebuffed him but expressed frustration:

My friend, no matter how you try to justify it, the Prophet expressed in crystal clear terms that it is strictly forbidden to target women and children in war. This is not Abu Basir’s “unrestricted application,” and is not his opinion. This is a divinely revealed rule that originated from Allah and was relayed by His Messenger, and nobody’s opinion – Mujahid or no Mujahid – overrides that.

I don’t know why that is so difficult to understand…

Then, e-jihadi #1 came back to give another piece of evidence in support of his view, which Mehanna then negated.  Interestingly enough, e-jihadi #1 found himself properly refuted, and conceded the debate.

E-jihadi #3 stepped up to the plate by claiming that the translated fatwa “is just one opinion”, to which Mehanna concluded by saying: “Yes, it also happens to be the opinion of the Prophet.”

Reading Tarek Mehanna’s blog and internet posts, it becomes apparent that he considers these e-jihadis to be misguided hotheads.  Although in several posts he criticizes American foreign policy, he also spends considerable amount of ink refuting the hotheads he feels have gone “too far”.

The major sticking point between Tarek Mehanna and the hotheads is the principle of distinction, i.e. the targeting and killing of civilians.  Mehanna posts multiple translations from religious figures considered highly regarded in the “jihadi community” in order to bolster his viewpoint and also to undermine the hotheads.

For example, Mehanna translated an Arabic tract by a senior religious figure, who says the hotheads are “the ones whom I fear for the Jihad and the Mujahidin” because they are a “group that harms the Jihad and the Mujahidin, and severely damages the Jihadi manhaj [methodology].”  Their failing is that they support “every [religious] opinion–even if it is wrong–that leads to extremism, harshness, and the spilling of blood–even if that blood was forbidden [i.e. innocent civilians]!”  They end up “distort[ing] the manhaj [methodology] of Jihad, as well as the image that the Jihad must remain upon”, and “give others a very bad and inaccurate picture of Jihad and the Mujahidin!”

Mehanna’s frustration with the hotheads becomes apparent in another translation that impugns the “mistaken attitude held by some of the youth who carry zeal and enthusiasm for the affairs of Jihad…[and] out of emotion, fanaticism, and ignorance” they reject the clear statement of Islam forbidding those actions committed by “the people of the frontlines” (i.e. Al-Qaeda).

*  *  *  *  *

Based on his steadfast rejection of targeting civilians, it seems improbable to me that Tarek Mehanna ever considered shooting American civilians in a shopping mall.  Another translation Mehanna provided on his website gives one more reason to be doubtful of this dubious government claim; the fatwa reads:

If you are given a visa to any country in the world, it is not allowed for you to partake in any action that breaks its laws. This is not allowed, unless this would contradict something from Islam, such as the prayer, fasting, etc. It is not allowed for you to cheat them [non-Muslims] or take from their wealth. It is not allowed, for example, for you to take one of their daughters, and marry her without the permission of her father. It is not allowed for you to rip up a telephone bill. It is not allowed for you to harm the state, and it is not allowed for you to place a magnet on the electric meter of your home [to steal electricity]… As for coming to kill him [non-Muslim] while he is secure and under a pact of security [visa], this is not allowed.

What’s interesting is that the prosecution not only failed to convict Tarek Mehanna for planning a shopping mall shooting spree, but never even charged him with this.  This is something that Mehanna himself noted, saying in an interview:

You asked me to summarize my court experience, and I wish to conclude it by mentioning that it has been nearly a year since I was last arrested, two years since I was first arrested. I have read through countless court documents handed over by the government during the year that I’ve been sitting here in prison. And to this day—after all this time—I have yet to come across even a single shred of evidence whatsoever that even remotely relates to the supposed “shopping mall” plot that I was initially accused of (but until now have not even been charged with). Nothing at all—there’s simply no trace of it, as if the accusation itself never existed in the first place. I think that in and of itself summarizes my court experience.

Why did the government not pursue this charge?  Certainly, this would be Mehanna’s most egregious misdeed if it were true.  Yet, the accusation simply disappeared from existence.

One can only conclude that this was a baseless accusation, one that was so weak that there was not even enough evidence to charge him with it, let alone convict him of it.  Yet, very early on it was thrown into the mix of accusations against Tarek Mehanna in order to smear him, as well as to instill fear into a post-Columbine American public.

Shouldn’t the government be held to account for such dishonest tactics?

*  *  *  *  *

As for the third smear, i.e. his connection to Al-Qaeda, I can find no evidence from Tarek Mehanna’s digital record for this claim.  He has dozens upon dozens of blog posts and internet comments, but not a single time do I see an endorsement, either direct or indirect, of Al-Qaeda.  In fact, he does not seem to mention the group at all.  If he was lobbying on their behalf, I think Al-Qaeda should ask for its money back.

Bloomberg Business Weekly ran the blaring headline “Terror Defendant Mehanna Backed Bin Laden Online, Jury Told.”  Yet, I have not been able to locate any such statement by Mehanna.  If “Mehanna backed Bin Laden online”, then surely we should be able to retrieve such a statement, since, as you may well know, the internet never forgets.

Yes, it’s true that Tarek Mehanna supports jihad, but his own blog clarifies what he thinks the word means: “The Purpose of Jihad…is to repel the aggression of the aggressors against Islam and the Muslims”; “the goal of the Jihad in this religion is not simply to control people or bring them under the submission of others, nor is the goal death and destruction, nor is it oppression under the guise of justice”, but rather it is “the spreading of justice and mercy…”

During his trial, Tarek Mehanna rejected the claim that he supports Al-Qaeda or that he condones their terrorist tactics of targeting civilians.  The evidence, i.e. his internet postings from years prior, is consistent with this.  Mehanna does support the mujahideen (holy warriors), but by this, he does not seem to be referring to Al-Qaeda or terrorists.  Instead, he is using this epithet for (what he, and I would argue many people, consider to be) legitimate “freedom fighters” who are fighting American soldiers in the streets of Iraq and Afghanistan.  But, the government has purposefully made “anyone who resists the U.S. occupation” to be synonymous with “Al-Qaeda” and “terrorist”.

The translations (above) are mostly from a religious cleric named Abu Basir al-Tartusi, who resides in London.  Abu Basir has been a vocal critic of Western military occupations of Muslim lands, but he strongly condemned acts of terrorism like the 7/7 bombing in London.  Mehanna’s views seem in line with Abu Basir’s, not Bin Laden’s.

*  *  *  *  *

Something else that Tarek Mahanna’s internet postings reveal is a certain fascination with Muslim prisoners.  He had numerous posts about prominent figures in Islamic history who were unjustly jailed, such as Ibn Taymiyyah and Ahmed Ibn Hanbal.  Closer to home, Mehanna had written passionately and repeatedly about Aafia Siddiqui, a Muslim woman who is being held in an American prison.  Tarek Mehanna had organized a letter writing campaign to boost her spirits in prison, but now it seems that he himself has joined her behind bars.  In doing so, the United States government has not only fulfilled his desire to become a martyr, but proved that he was right: the U.S. does jail Muslims unjustly.

It is true that Tarek Mehanna’s views, as expressed on the internet over the years, reveal that he was a religious extremist in many ways (and certainly a hothead in his own right).  But, there does not seem to be any evidence from his internet record (which is on what basis he stands convicted) to prove that he supported terrorism.  Instead, he rejected terrorism.  His other views may well be offensive, but they are not illegal to hold, and are Constitutionally protected.

One of Mehanna’s most disturbing beliefs is his adherence to a “clash of civilizations” worldview, or at least its Muslim equivalent.  In this paradigm, the Muslim community will forever be under attack by the disbelievers, specifically the West.  Thus, there will exist a permanent state of animosity between the two sides.  In the end, it is the United States that has reinforced this belief in Tarek Mehanna (and countless other Muslims) more than any radical preacher could ever hope to do.

*  *  *  *  *

I strongly encourage readers to check out Glenn Greenwald’s piece on the topic, which includes a transcript of Tarek Mehanna’s sentencing statement.

Also read Carol Rose’s excellent article, It’s Official. There is a Muslim Exception to the First Amendment.

Update I:

A reader quipped:

So you folks know everything about Tarek Mehanna? Everything. How? “Because we read his blog.Yeah!!”

I did not claim to know everything about Tarek Mehanna. I simply went through his blog posts and internet comments, which are on what basis he was convicted for, i.e. online advocacy of terrorism.

Danios was the Brass Crescent Award Honorary Mention for Best Writer in 2010 and the Brass Crescent Award Winner for Best Writer in 2011.

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  • Abdul-Rahman

    The US government’s allegations about Tarek Mehanna’s activities in Yemen were never proven, and Mehanna’s statement that he went to Yemen to look into enrollment in Islamic and Arabic language schools are much more believable and Yemen is noted for its schools and for being a very good place to learn classical Arabic if one is willing to live in one of the overall less developed parts of the region (but this in itself can be a blessing as scholars such as Sheikh Hamza Yusuf discovered when he tells about his learning from Bedouins living in the deserts of Mauritania. Noting how this lifestyle with less comforts can bring one a sense of inner peace and help in the learning about the Deen aka religion).

    So again the US government couldn’t prove anything about Mehanna’s supposedly “nefarious” activities in Yemen or anywhere else and they had no evidence of any violent act Mehanna was engaged in or planning to engage in so they simply went with the “thought crimes” angle and in an America today dominated by the new McCarthyism of Islamophobia they sadly got their way.

  • Awesome

    Tarek Mehanna, like Aafia Siddiqui, is a political prisoner, a “prisoner of conscience”, and his incarceration, like hers, is just another wrong in a long list of wrongs committed by the ever-corrupt Feds, that needs to be righted by releasing these individuals, and removing their convictions from their respective records.

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  • Géji

    America state terrorism ongoing.

  • AJ


    I request the same!

  • Danios

    I am responding to a comment by “Defend Muhammad” who posted the following on Facebook (would someone kindly post it in response to his comment on our fan page?). Defend Muhammad stated:

    Danios is a fool. Mr. Mehanna’s website linked to by Danios also includes articles by such terrorist luminaries like Abdullah Azzam, mentor of Osama bin Laden, and Abu Muhammad Al-Maqdisi, mentor of Ayman Zawihiri.

    Here is a case of shoddy analysis, similar to what is often done in Western media. One could equally say that Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawihiri considered the Prophet Muhammad (whom “Defend Muhammad” is defending!) and Saladin his “spiritual mentors.”

    Just because OBL or Zawihiri considers someone to be their spiritual guide does not mean that the spiritual guide in turn would see them as rightly guided. This is a logical fallacy you are committing.

    Abdullah Azzam was the leader of the Afghan Arab mujahideen who fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Azzam fought against the Soviet military. To my knowledge, he did not engage in acts of terrorism against civilians. In fact, if you had just looked at the translation from Tarek Mehanna’s website itself–which I reproduced in my article–you would have seen that Mehanna brought up Azzam’s own words to counter the claims by the e-jihadists who took Bin Laden’s opinion on targeting/killing civilians. How deceitful of you to then to use that as a proof!

    In fact, in Mehanna’s mind, Abdullah Azzam is the perfect example of a “true mujahid”, as opposed to Bin Laden.

    Azzam is praised by a great slew of Muslims, cutting across many ideological lines, including but not limited to terrorists like Bin Laden.

    Also, it was only after Azzam’s death that Bin Laden formed “Al-Qaeda” and shifted attention away from guerrilla warfare with Soviet military to terrorism against America and her allies. What Azzam would have thought of this is up for debate. But, just so you know, there are even those, such as Azzam’s own son, who believes that Bin Laden himself was responsible for killing Azzam.

    Now, among “jihadis” overall, Abdullah Azzam has legendary status. Therefore, it is no surprise at all that those with Mehanna’s views and those with Al-Qaeda type views would both respect Azzam. In fact, both need to claim him in order to gain legitimacy. In conclusion, your argument is a very weak one, ESPECIALLY since the quotes from Abdullah Azzam that Mehanna reproduced GO AGAINST what you claim.

    As for Abu Muhammad Asem al-Maqdisi, you once again use simplistic Western media sort of argumentation. First, I think you meant al-Zarqawi and not al-Zawahiri. Second, you fail to mention that Zarqawi and Maqdisi had an ideological split. Maqdisi specifically rejected Zarqawi’s logic using the “night raid” to justify killing Shia civilians. You also failed to mention that the more ardent jihadis subsequently accused Maqdisi of “going soft.”

    You yourself reproduced the translation of Al-Maqdisi’s work which was on Mehanna’s website. I scanned it real quickly, but I didn’t see anything in it that justifies targeting/killing civilians. If there is anything in it like that, please post it (because I may have missed it, but I don’t think so).

    Once again, Tarek Mehanna approves of Al-Maqdisi, who he would hold to be a “true mujahid”, but meanwhile would reject Zarqawi and his tactics.

    To be clear, none of this analysis of mine means I agree with the ideologies of any of the individuals listed above. I believe in secular, liberal democracy. But, your inability to understand nuance is indicative of a Bushian “us vs. them” sort of mentality. I don’t agree with Tarek Mehanna’s world view (hundredth time I’ve said that), but justice and rule of law must have a fair hand.

    Lastly, you reproduce a translation Mehanna included, and then ask “And you call this free speech?”


    You need to learn what “freedom of speech” is, because you have no clue.

    Also, you just reproduced it, so should you be arrested too?

  • khushboo

    What I’m saying is that Neocons love to see more division among our Ummah and will use words like “Islamists” “Jihadis” and now “Salafis” to represent extremists. Even we Muslims including scholars, who are certainly not perfect, have been generalizing by calling salafis “extremists” and “radicals”. Even the word “radical” has been distorted. It used to mean “finding the root of the problem.” We turn these positive words into a negative. Egyptians who call the Muslim Brotherhood “Islamists” actually think of it as a positive and in their view, not at all demeaning. Most of us in the West, however see things as black and white: “You’re a salafi, therefore, must be an extremist.”
    I’m simply suggesting, as Ilisha pointed out, that if you find someone intolerant or extremist, just say “intolerant” or “extremist”.

  • Sam Seed

    @Crowned Winter

    Are you Dr. Timothy Winter? If you are then peace and greetings to you, I am also an admirer of Rumi and my brother says you are truly wonderful person.

  • IbnAbuTalib

    khushboo: I respectfully suggest that you refrain from using the words “Salafis”, “Jihadis” or “Islamists”. These are words originally made up by neoNazis and now we’re duped into using them.

    Who said these words were originally coined by NeoNazis? If you didn’t know, Salafism has been equated with intolerance and extremism by both western academics and traditional Muslim scholars.

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  • khushboo

    The word “Salafist” is being misused. Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) and his companions were Salafis and those that follow their peaceful ways are Salafis. Extremists are not salafis! They have their own WRONG interpretation of the Quran to gain political power. These type of people have nothing to do with Islam/Salafis. I respectfully suggest that you refrain from using the words “Salafis”, “Jihadis” or “Islamists”. These are words originally made up by neoNazis and now we’re duped into using them.

  • Sir David : Man on a phone with a french spell check

    Crowned Winter
    As someone used to work on Prevent i would be very intérested in your report.
    Incidently the only young person i knew about at that time who was thought to be at risk of radicalisation was in danger of being recruited into in to combat88 . Nô hé wasnt a muslim. LOL

  • Sir David ( Illuminati membership number 16.69

    Persian said
    “Without a doubt this guys is a salafist who supports the indiscriminate murder and mayhem of everyone he considers to be the other”
    Sorry but you have no evidence to support such a statement . In fact if you read Danios above this chap stated the exact opposite of that .

    Danios wrote above
    ” Not only did I not find any postings justifying or calling for the killing of American civilians, I found the exact opposite. In 2008, long before he was arrested, Mehanna translated and published a fatwa (religious verdict) that categorically forbids the targeting and killing of civilians.”

    I would respectfully suggest you reread the above article.

    As for weather he is a salafist and weather that is a good thing or not . I am not qualified to say as I am not a muslim.

    His case reminds me of the words to a song about christmas I like

    Do you spare one thought for Jesus,
    who had nothing but his thoughts?
    Who got busted just for talking
    And befriending the wrong sorts?
    When winter…Comes howling in.

    I fear Winter is coming

  • Abdul-Rahman


    The posts of Tarek Mehanna himself refute what you claimed as Tarek Mehanna specifically mentions the fact that one is NOT allowed to kill any civilians (including non-Muslim civilians) under the rules Islamic Shari’ah (which forbids even harming trees and animals much less civilian human beings regardless of their religion). So with the person in question (i.e. Tarek Mehanna) clearly saying and writing unequivocally that killing of non-combatants is not allowed in Islam how do you then claim he supposedly calls/ed for the “violent exclusion of the other” and even more absurdly that he supposedly according to you “supports indiscriminate murder and mayhem of everyone he considers to be the other”. Tarek again SPECIFICALLY wrote about the Islamic laws forbidding harming or targeting civilians. Tarek only spoke in support of people fighting in self-defense against imperialist invasions and occupations of their lands by foreign imperialist Western forces (i.e. the resistance in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, etc).

  • Persian

    Everything he said is true. But, a lot of nazis also have the same accurate critique of western imperialism. At the same time, nazis and salafist, both advocate an extremist ideology that calls for the violent exclusion of the other. Without a doubt this guys is a salafist who supports the indiscriminate murder and mayhem of everyone he considers to be the other. Why does loonwatch always support these salafist? They are the ones giving all Muslims a bad name.

  • Dreamdayz01

    Off topic, but was watching “Scent of a Women” (1992) yesterday, and when Al Pacino towards the end of the movie thunders ‘But He Is No Snitch’, I automatically thought of Tarek Mehanna. In fact, lots pf parallel between that speech and Tarek’s final statement in court.

  • Crowned Winter

    As a white English Muslim (yes, true love does led to God, as Rumi would say in other words), this case disturbs me greatly. As a researcher into UK anti-terrorism laws, this case now alarms me even more (along with other, similar, cases).

    I am currently the co-author of a report due to be released next month (although this may get put back due to circumstances beyond our control) for Cage Prisoners examining the Terrorism Act 2000 and Prevent, specifically, how it effects the non-Muslim communities of the UK.

    I have only briefly examined this case so far, but what I have read thus far leaves me to believe most strongly that he was set up. Yes I am stating the obvious here, but it has to be said in the most plain language possible: Tarek Mehanna was set up for a fall by the FBI BECAUSE he refused to be a mole for them, as well as because of his activism for US political prisoners.

    May Allah protect us all in the coming days,

    Crowned Winter.

  • Danios

    Durendal was banned long time ago for using sock-puppets. His comments were hence deleted.

    Have Al Qaida ever said they target civilians? I don’t think they say this.

    Al-Qaeda’s leader Osama bin Laden has justified the targeting and killing of civilians based on the following grounds:

    1. Claiming that they are not really innocent.
    2. Reciprocity

    It is these arguments that Tarek Mehanna rejected.

    Once again, Durendal adds nothing to the conversation aside from his ignorance.

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