Mohamed Alessa and Carlos Almonte pleaded guilty to conspiring to murder individuals overseas on behalf of al-Shabaab. They were arrested and charged in June 2010 while attempting to board separate international flights from New York's JFK International Airport.
The investigation began in 2006 following a tip from an acquaintance regarding the men's activities. An undercover New York police officer subsequently befriended the men and recorded their conversations. The undercover agent reported the men listened to radical sermons, watched jihadi videos, and planned to travel abroad to engage in violent jihad.
In a January 2010 conversation with the undercover officer, the men discussed U.S. troops deployed overseas returning home "in caskets" and "sliced up in 1,000 pieces cozy in the grace, in hell."
They also discussed carrying out jihad in America if their attempts to wage jihad overseas failed. "We'll start doing killing here, if I can't do it over there," the complaint quoted Alessa saying. Alessa also confided to the undercover officer: "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 here and do something here. Ah, I love that."
During a car ride with the undercover, Almonte played a recording on his mobile phone of a sermon by now-deceased Yemeni al-Qaida cleric Anwar al-Awlaki titled "Constants on the Path of Jihad." The American-born Awlaki spoke in support of lone-wolf jihad where "an individual need not rely on others or have a leader in order to wage violent jihad."
Agents found documents by senior al-Qaida leaders, including Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri on Almonte's computer.
"Alessa and Almonte wanted to join terrorists who shared their violent, extremist ideology so they could murder those who did not," New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman said in a Justice Department press release. "We need not speculate about their intentions: their own words confirm the deadly mission for which they trained, planned, and attempted to embark. Their decades-long sentences are both a just punishment for their admitted actions and a warning to others who would be tempted down this dead-end path."