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US men accused of trying to join Somali terrorists

 FILE - FBI special agent Richard J. Kolko answers questions in this March 25, 2010 file photo taken in New York. A newspaper reports that two New Jer...

Terrorism Arrests

FILE - FBI special agent Richard J. Kolko answers questions in this March 25, 2010 file photo taken in New York. A newspaper reports that two New Jer...

They were recorded talking jihad against their fellow Americans. But they hadn't talked the jihadists into accepting them.
When the two New Jersey men tried to fly out of New York's Kennedy Airport in hopes of getting terror training in Somalia, investigators who had been following them for years were waiting for each of them at the gate, officials said Sunday.
Mohamed Mahmood Alessa, 20, and Carlos Eduardo Almonte, 24, were arrested Saturday before they could board separate flights to Egypt and then continue on to Somalia, federal officials in New Jersey and the New York Police Department said.
They are the latest of several U.S. Muslims accused of joining or trying to join terrorist groups, radicalized with help from fellow Americans preaching violent jihad over the Internet.
Authorities say they recorded Alessa and Almonte talking about attacking Americans. Alessa allegedly said 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," Alessa was recorded saying, according to court documents.
They had no known connections to established terrorist groups, however. They had traveled to Jordan three years ago and tried to get into Iraq, only to be rejected by jihadists, New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said. Their trip to Somalia apparently amounted to a leap of faith that they would be embraced by al-Shabab, a violent extremist group based in Somalia and connected to al-Qaida.
Kelly said Alessa, of North Bergen, and Almonte, of Elmwood Park, are American citizens. Alessa was born in the United States and is of Palestinian descent. Almonte is a naturalized citizen who was born in the Dominican Republic.
They are accused of trying to join al-Shabab, which was designated by the U.S. as a terrorist group in 2008.
Though Americans are potentially valuable to terrorist groups, they also carry the risk of being undercover investigators _ like the one who had gained Alessa's and Almonte's trust well before their arrests.
In March, Alessa was recorded telling Almonte and the NYPD undercover officer that no one else they knew in New Jersey should be included in their plan to join al-Shabab because only the three of them were "serious about their plan and were preparing for it." Court documents do not indicate that authorities had other targets in the investigation.
Law enforcement became aware of the men in the fall of 2006, after receiving a tip. Since then, during the lengthy investigation, the undercover officer recorded conversations with the men in which they spoke about jihad against Americans.
"I leave this time. God willing, I never come back," authorities say Alessa told the officer last year. "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. Ah, I love that."
Investigators say Alessa and Almonte are among many U.S. terrorism suspects to have been inspired by two well-known U.S. citizens who have recruited terrorists through the Internet: Adam Gadahn, an al-Qaida spokesman in Pakistan, and Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical al-Qaida cleric hiding in Yemen who is believed to have helped inspire recent attacks including the Fort Hood shooting, the Times Square bombing attempt and the failed Christmas Day airline bombing.
Both men have made public calls for smaller, single acts of terrorism and court documents show Alessa and Almonte appearing to be inspired by that idea.
Alessa and Almonte face charges of conspiring to kill, maim, and kidnap persons outside the United States by joining al-Shabab. Teams of state and federal law enforcement agents who have been investigating the men took them into custody, authorities said. They are scheduled to appear Monday in federal court in Newark.
Kelly on Sunday cited the "excellent work" done by the undercover officer, who Kelly said was of Egyptian descent and in his mid-20s.
No one answered the door at Almonte's house and the blinds were drawn. A man who said he was Almonte's father walked into the home shortly before 1 p.m. with another man.
"I'm very confused by all this. He's my son," he said before he went inside. "I just don't understand it."
Alessa lived with his parents, said Hemant Shah, the family's landlord. Alessa was attending Bergen County Community College, Shah said, and his father worked at a convenience store.
"It's surprising," Shah said of the arrests. "If it's true, it's very scary."
Somalia, an impoverished East African nation of about 10 million people, has not had a functioning government for more than a decade, although the U.S. is backing a transitional government there. The Pentagon's top commander in the region has included Somalia on a list of countries where clandestine American military operations designed to disrupt militant groups would be targeted.
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Apuzzo reported from Washington. Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Geoff Mulvihill in North Bergen, New Jersey; Samantha Henry in Newark, New Jersey; Tom Hays and Karen Matthews in New York; Mohamed Sheikh Nor in Mogadishu, Somalia; Lolita Baldor in Washington and AP Radio Correspondent Julie Walker in New York.


Updated : 2021-10-20 14:13 GMT+08:00