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N.J. Pair Plead Guilty To Conspiracy Tied To Terrorism

An undated file photo provided by U.S. Marshals shows Carlos Eduardo Almonte, left, and Mohamed Mahmood Alessa, right, who were arrested at New York's Kennedy Airport on June 5, 2010. i

An undated file photo provided by U.S. Marshals shows Carlos Eduardo Almonte, left, and Mohamed Mahmood Alessa, right, who were arrested at New York's Kennedy Airport on June 5, 2010. AP hide caption

itoggle caption AP
An undated file photo provided by U.S. Marshals shows Carlos Eduardo Almonte, left, and Mohamed Mahmood Alessa, right, who were arrested at New York's Kennedy Airport on June 5, 2010.

An undated file photo provided by U.S. Marshals shows Carlos Eduardo Almonte, left, and Mohamed Mahmood Alessa, right, who were arrested at New York's Kennedy Airport on June 5, 2010.

AP

Two New Jersey men have pleaded guilty to felony conspiracy charges, stemming from their attempt to join a terrorist group in Somalia last year. Mohamed Alessa and Carlos Eduardo Almonte were intercepted at New York's Kennedy International Airport last June.

Alessa, 21, is the son of Palestinian immigrants; he was born in the United States. And Almonte, 24, was born in the Dominican Republic and became a naturalized U.S. citizen. The two pleaded guilty as part of a deal that limits their potential incarceration to between 15 and 30 years.

As we reported at the time of their arrest, the two were in contact with an undercover New York police office for four years, as they reportedly discussed radical ideas and the possibility of working with terrorist groups affiliated with al-Qaeda.

When they were apprehended, the pair were about to fly to Egypt, with the intention of then traveling to Somalia and seeking training from al-Shabab, a group on the U.S. terrorism watch list. At the time, they had no real ties to the group.

The arrest of Almonte, in particular, heightened concerns among law enforcement officials, who began to see a trend of Latino suspects in terrorism cases, as Dina Temple-Raston reported in December.

An AP report fill in some of the details about their lives in the time leading up to the arrest:

Officials at several northern New Jersey schools described Alessa as a disruptive and violent youth who ultimately had to be taught separately from other students and with a security guard present. Almonte's criminal record includes arrests for aggravated assault and weapons possession.

While court documents paint a picture of two men deeplycommitted to terrorism, their training was apparently scattershot. They lifted weights, hiked in the snow at a local park, bought military-style pants and water bottles, played paintball and violent video games and watched terrorist videos online.

In court Thursday, Stanley Cohen, the attorney for Alessa, told the AP, "These are very young men; this activity began when my client was 16 years old."

Saying that his client was more of a misguided youth than a militant, Cohen added that proving a conspiracy charge carries "few evidentiary requirements."

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