Feds Unseal Terror Charges Against 2 NJ MenJune 6, 2010 - 11:55 AM | by: Mike Levine
Federal authorities on Sunday unsealed charges against two New Jersey men arrested the night before as they allegedly tried to join an Al Qaeda-linked group in war-torn Somalia and kill Americans there.
The men were inspired at least in part by Omar Hammami, the Alabama-born face of the Somalia-based terrorist group, and Anwar al-Awlaki, the New Mexico-born cleric now hiding in Yemen who has been linked to the Fort Hood shootings, the Christmas Day bombing attempt and the failed Times Square car bomb plot, according to federal prosecutors.
20-year-old Mohamed Mahmood Alessa of North Bergen, N.J., and 24-year-old Carlos Eduardo Almonte of Elmwood Park, N.J., have been charged with conspiring to kill or injure persons outside the United States. Both are U.S. citizens.
They were taken into custody late Saturday night at JFK International Airport, as they attempted to board separate flights to Egypt on their way to Somalia, where the group al-Shabaab is battling the nation’s fledgling transitional government.
After the FBI received a tip in October 2006, an undercover officer with the New York Police Department’s Intelligence Division recorded numerous meetings and conversations with Alessa and Almonte about their violent plans, according to court documents.
On Saturday night, a team of federal agents and local law enforcement was waiting for them at the airport, arrest warrants in hand. Meanwhile, other federal agents raided the men’s New Jersey homes.
According to prosecutors, over the years Alessa and Almonte saved thousands of dollars, procured military gear and apparel for use overseas, and “physically conditioned” themselves, which included engaging in paintball and other tactical training. They also repeatedly watched and shared recordings promoting violent jihad, including lectures by al-Awlaki and online videos featuring Hammami, who is now known as “Abu Mansour al-Amriki,” prosecutors allege.
In late November 2009, Alessa was recorded saying that if he and Almonte can’t kill targets overseas, then they’ll “start doing killing here” in the United States, according to court documents. He later said he would return to the “crap hole” of the United States if “the leader ordered me to come back here and do something,” court documents allege.
Alessa also allegedly spoke of U.S. Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, who allegedly killed 13 people at Fort Hood, Tex., last year after corresponding with al-Awlaki. Alessa threatened to do “twice what he did,” according to court documents.
More recently, on April 25, Almonte allegedly said he was happy to hear rumors that Americans would soon be arriving in Somalia to help fight al-Shabaab. Almonte said killing more than Africans would be particularly gratifying, according to prosecutors.
A month earlier, a top State Department official, Assistant Secretary Johnnie Carson, tried to quell rumors of further U.S. involvement, insisting that the United States would not offer any “direct support” to the Somali government. Instead, he told reporters at the time, the United States has been contributing “limited military support,” without U.S. soldiers on the ground.
While law enforcement officials have recently said there is no intelligence to suggest al-Shabaab is actively plotting attacks inside the United States, New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said such a strike was “a possibility in this case.”
For more than a year, the FBI has been investigating how dozens of Americans from across the country were recruited to train and fight alongside al-Shabaab, which has pledged its allegiance to Usama bin Laden.
The New York Police Department has also “long been concerned” about Americans being radicalized inside the country, Kelly said. About a year ago, an NYPD intelligence officer met with experts on the ground in East Africa, trying to learn more about how al-Shabaab operates and recruits foreigners, according to one source.
In October 2008, 27-year-old college student Shirwa Ahmed of Minneapolis became “the first known American suicide bomber” when he blew himself up in Somalia, killing dozens, according to the FBI.
Somalia has had no stable government since 1991, when dictator Siad Barre was ousted from power. The transitional government has had trouble keeping Muslim militants at bay, and in 2006 fighting with al-Shabaab intensified after Western-backed Ethiopian forces invaded the country.
Alessa and Almonte are expected to appear in court on Monday. If convicted, they each face up to life in prison.