Demonstrating law enforcement's focus on U.S.-recruiting for Somalia's Al-Shabaab terrorist group, two New Jersey men were arrested late Saturday on charges they conspired to commit acts of international terrorism tied to the group.
Mohamed Alessa and Carlos Almonte, both American citizens, were taking separate flights to Egypt when FBI agents arrested them at John F. Kennedy International Airport. From Egypt, prosecutors say, they planned to travel to Somalia in hopes of joining Al-Shabaab, a terrorist group affiliated with Al Qaida.
The investigation began in 2006 with a tip from an acquaintance he told authorities the men often viewed jihadist videos and said Americans and other non-Muslims "are their enemies ... and they all must be killed."
They were befriended by an undercover New York police officer who recorded their conversations.
The undercover worked out with Alessa and Almonte, listened to radical sermons, watched jihadi videos, played first-person shooter games and watched as they planned their travel abroad.
According to the 17-page complaint, the two were intent on waging violent jihad, and indicated a willingness to do it in America.
"We'll start doing killing here, if I can't do it over there," Alessa said last November. A month later, the defendants listened to a recorded sermon by American-born radical cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki "promoting violent jihad and martyrdom."
The next day, Mr. Alessa told the undercover: "I leave this time, God willing, I never come back. I'll never see this crap hole. 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."
In statements, however, officials stressed there was no immediate threat of a plot to attack inside America.
In January, they listened to Awlaki's sermon "Constants on the Path to Jihad," which stresses individual, leaderless action. On May 25th, they watched a new Awlaki video in which he "justified the killing of civilians in the course of waging violent jihad," the complaint said.
Religious dogma played an important part in their motivation, the complaint indicates. Alessa was recorded saying they "should love believers of Islam and hate non-Muslims; (2) the enemies of Allah, specifically; (a) the devil; (b) one's self; (c) non believers; (d) hypocrites; (e) Jews; and (f) Christians; and (3) the importance of waging violent jihad."
After discussing different jihadist groups in January, Almonte called Al-Shabaab "the main one," and said "it has to be them." Their ultimate goal was to kill American troops abroad.
Almonte and Alessa are expected to appear in federal court Monday.