N.J. men accused of plot go to court
Their intentions clear, US alleges
NEWARK — Two northern New Jersey men accused of trying to join a terrorist group in Somalia intended to commit acts of violence even though their plans may appear ill-formed and scattershot, a federal prosecutor said yesterday.
“Sophistication is not a measure of danger,’’ US Attorney Paul Fishman said. “Their intentions were described pretty clearly. They were watching certain videos and interested in what certain people were saying and advocating.’’
Mohamed Mahmood Alessa and Carlos Eduardo Almonte made their first court appearance yesterday in Newark.
Alessa, 20, and Almonte, 24, were arrested Saturday night at New York’s Kennedy Airport as they prepared to fly to Egypt and then to Somalia, authorities said. They are charged with conspiring to kill, maim, and kidnap persons outside the United States by joining al-Shabab, a group the United States designated a terrorist organization in 2008.
Alessa and Almonte appeared before US Magistrate Judge Madeline Cox Arleo yesterday. Alessa had several cuts and bruises on his forehead.
Both men spoke only to affirm that they understood the charge against them. Two of Alessa’s relatives and court-appointed lawyers for both men declined to comment after the hearing.
Alessa and Almonte will be held without bail pending a hearing Thursday. If convicted, they could face life in prison.
Investigators say the men were traveling to Somalia to seek terror training from Al Qaeda-affiliated jihadists and attack fellow Americans.
But their preparations apparently were far from sophisticated. They lifted weights, bought military-style pants, tried paintball, played violent video games, and watched terrorist videos online, authorities said. They possessed two folding knives.
They had no known connections to terror groups, and their trip to Somalia apparently amounted to a leap of faith that they would be embraced by jihadists. Fishman would not say yesterday whether they had made any contact with al-Shabab.
Alessa, of North Bergen, and Almonte, of Elmwood Park, are American citizens, authorities said. Alessa was born in the United States and is of Palestinian descent. Almonte is a naturalized citizen who was born in the Dominican Republic.
Law enforcement became aware of the men in the fall of 2006, when the FBI received an anonymous tip through its website, and some unidentified family members cooperated with investigators, according to a criminal complaint.
In March 2007, the FBI conducted a consensual search of Almonte’s computer, revealing documents advocating jihad against the perceived enemies of Islam, court papers show.
An undercover officer met the men last year and began recording conversations in which the two spoke about jihad against Americans, investigators said.
The men had traveled to Jordan three years ago and tried to get into Iraq, only to be rejected by jihadists, officials said.