The two New Jersey men arrested at JFK airport in New York yesterday, who were allegedly bound for Somalia to attempt to join a terrorist group, had allegedly talked about killing Americans, but were not connected to any terrorist groups.
Authorities allege that Mohamed Mahmood Alessa, 20, and Carlos Eduardo Almonte, 24 — who were charged Sunday with conspiring to kill, maim and kidnap persons outside the U.S. — planned to travel to Somalia and join the group al-Shabaab. An undercover FBI agent recorded conversations with the two men, who first came on the bureau’s radar after a tip in 2006.
But, as the AP reports, it’s not at all clear that Alessa and Almonte would have been successful:
But their preparations apparently were unsophisticated. They lifted weights, bought military-style pants and water bottles, played violent video games and watched terrorist videos online.
They had no known connections to terrorist groups, and their planned trip to Somalia apparently amounted to a leap of faith that they’d be embraced by the jihadists.
The two had allegedly traveled to Jordan in February 2007; a Customs officer searched their bags and observed carrying flashlights, camouflage apparel, and three Camelbak hydration systems. In February of 2010, Almonte told the undercover agent that in Jorden “they tried to be recruited as mujahideen fighters, but were denied the opportunity and were upset at the individuals who failed to recruit them,” according to the criminal complaint.
The Obama Administration recently declared a new focus on homegrown terrorism, highlighting the cases of Somali-American men from Minnesota joining al-Shabaab. Neither Alessa — a naturalized citizen born in the Dominican Republic — nor Almonte, whose parents are reportedly Jordanian and Palestinian, had roots in Somalia.
The Star-Ledger is reporting that the two men’s families cooperated with the FBI on the case.
The FBI’s press release on the case is here and the charging document is below: