2 terror suspects had issues in N.J.
NORTH BERGEN, N.J. — Two terrorism suspects arrested at an airport over the weekend ran afoul of school officials and law enforcement over the last several years, with one considered so disruptive that he was removed from school and taught privately with a security guard present.
Mohamed Mahmood Alessa was placed on home instruction three months after transferring from an Islamic high school in 2004, said Paul Swibinksi, a spokesman for North Bergen High School.
Swibinski declined to say what made officials consider Alessa to be dangerous but said it was not a specific incident or physical altercation, but more a pattern of behavior.
“School officials were very concerned about having him in the building,’’ Swibinski said. “They were concerned for the safety of the other students and the staff.’’
Authorities say Alessa, 20, and Carlos Eduardo Almonte, 24, tried to fly out of New York’s Kennedy Airport Saturday in hopes of getting terrorism training in Somalia.
Alessa, who was born in the United States, is the son of Palestinian immigrants. Almonte is a naturalized citizen who was born in the Dominican Republic. Both are Muslim.
The two made their first federal court appearance Monday in Newark, and both requested court-appointed attorneys.
Almonte was arrested about a year ago and charged with aggravated assault for allegedly hitting someone on the back of the head with a glass picture frame in his hometown of Elmwood Park. The charge was dismissed in the fall, according to court records.
In 2004, he was arrested for possession of a knife on school property, assault, and underage drinking; court records reflect that he was fined $500 for the drinking charge and the other charges were dismissed.
Alessa attended ninth grade at the Al-Huda School, a private Islamic school in Paterson, a city about 15 miles from Manhattan that is the heart of New Jersey’s Arab-American community.
Al-Huda officials issued a statement saying they were “shocked and saddened by the allegations’’ against Alessa. “We strive to educate our children to be successful and to be good citizens,’’ the school said in a statement.
Alessa was very violent, and his family told educators they were seeking professional help for him, said a former teacher at the school who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing Alessa’s privacy.
Alessa transferred to North Bergen High in December 2004.
By February 2005, he had been placed on home instruction, Swibinski said. Teachers were so concerned about Alessa’s behavior, Swibinski said, that they refused to work with him at his home, instead holding classes at a public library with a school security guard present.
Investigators say Alessa and Almonte intended to head to Somalia to seek terror training from Al Qaeda-affiliated jihadists and to unleash attacks against fellow Americans.
The men had no contact with Somali terrorists, according to officials and court documents, and their a amounted to a leap of faith that they would be accepted by a terrorist group.
The two are being held without bail pending a detention hearing tomorrow. If convicted, they could face life in prison.