Two New Jersey men, thwarted in an attempt to join a Somali terrorist group, pled guilty Thursday to murder-conspiracy charges. Carlos Almonte, 24, and Mohamed Alessa, 21 were arrested in June as they tried to board separate flights to Egypt. They had planned to travel to Somalia to join al-Shabaab, which has formed an alliance with al-Qaida.
Appearing in federal court in Newark, the pair told Judge Dickinson R. Debevoise that they lifted weights, and practiced combat. Almonte and Alessa admitted they travelled abroad in an effort to join terror groups. They planned to attack Somali civilians, African Union peacekeepers and members of Somalia's Transitional Federal Government, which al-Shabaab seeks to overthrow.
The men "planned and trained for a mission that began in their New Jersey neighborhoods and would end with the murder of innocent civilians," said U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman.
The pair pled guilty of conspiring to murder individuals oversees on behalf of a foreign terror group. Although they could receive life in prison, defense lawyer said they had reached agreement with prosecutors that neither side would oppose sentences ranging from 15 to 30 years imprisonment.
Court documents and statements show the case started in October 2006, when the FBI received a tip that the pair was talking about killing American soldiers and declaring their determination to kill non-Muslims.
As the investigation continued, NYPD Intelligence Department undercover officers recorded conversations in which the defendants discussed their plans and prepared to carry them out. These included lifting weights; engaging in combat simulations using paintball guns and computer software; acquiring night-vision equipment and military clothing; and traveling to Jordan in 2007 where they attempted to join jihadist organizations.
Almonte and Alessa also admitted acquiring and showing audio, video and written materials by al-Qaida and al-Shabaab members advocating violence against their opponents.
In one secretly recorded conversation, Almonte commented about how law enforcement wanted to put the pair in prison. He joked that he is "innocent" and wants "the troops to come home safely and cozily."
"In body bags, in caskets," Alessa replied.
"In caskets," said Almonte.
"Sliced up in 1,000 pieces cozy in the grave in hell," Alessa said.
Read more about the guilty pleas here.