Two New Jersey men were arraigned before a federal judge Monday, two days after federal agents and NYPD cops arrested and charged them with conspiring to kill their fellow Americans.
27-year-old Mohamed Mahmood Alessa and 26-year-old Carlos Eduardo Almonte appeared briefly in federal court in Newark, speaking only to say they understood the charges against them. They face charges of conspiring to kill, maim and kidnap persons outside the United States.
The two were arrested Saturday as they were about to board separate flights to Egypt where they were scheduled to continue to Somalia to join the Al Qaeda-backed extremist group known as Al Shabaab.
Agents from the federal Joint Terrorism Task Force, FBI and the NYPD raided the homes of the men in North Bergen and Elmwood Park. Both are U.S. citizens -- Alessa born in the U.S. of Palestinian parents and Almonte a naturalized citizen born in the Dominican Republic.
According to the federal complaint, the two planned to kill American soldiers overseas, and possibly create terror fears in the U.S. as well. Police say Alesssa and Almonte had tried to train to kill in the past. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said the men left the U.S. in 2007 and tried to get into Iraq from Jordan, but were turned back. "They have professed their intent to create mayhem, a jihad," Kelly said.
Alessa's landlord said he saw the man just before he left for the airport. He said his demeanor was good and said he would be away for about six months.
According to the federal complaint, both men shared their plans with a man they thought was their friendly operative, but in fact he was a young undercover police officer. Kelly praised the officer, a man of Egyptian descent in his 20s, for doing an "excellent job."
Some of the undercover recordings cited in the federal court papers are chilling. In one excerpt Alessa is quoted as telling Almonte, "a lot of people need to get killed, bro. Swear to God...just kill anyone that even looks at me the wrong way bro. My soul cannot rest until I shed blood. I swear to like, be the world's known terrorist."
In another recorded conversation, Alessa declared "God willing I never come back. Only way I would come back here is if I was in the land of jihad and the leader ordered me to come back here and do something here."
Commissioner Kelly acknowledged that threat. "We were concerned about the possibility of them doing a turn-around and coming back to this country. According to the court papers, they stated that if they couldn't kill there, they would kill here."
Investigators said that in another recording Alessa boasts that he would outdo Maj. Nidal Hasan, the army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas last year. "He's not better than me. I'll do twice what he did," he declared, according to the court papers.
Alessa and Almonte did physical training in New Jersey and prepared for combat at a paintball facility in West Milford. They also watched videos from the Al Shabaab terrorist group frequently and for long periods of time, according to the indictment against them. Neighbors were shocked to learn of the arrests, and described the two suspects as quiet types who they never would have thought of having any links to terrorists.
Senator Charles Schumer said this latest case is another reminder of just how vulnerable we are.
Commissioner Kelly said that despite Alessa and Almonte's professed intent to kill Americans and despite the NYPD's concern about the men applying here in our area lessons of terrorism they might learn abroad, the two suspected jihadists posed no imminent terror threat.
If convicted of the charges, the men could face life in prison.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times