Federal agents snatched up two young locals — one a Union Hill High School graduate who lived in North Bergen and the other from Elmwood Park — as they boarded a plane headed to a connection with an al Qaeda group planning to kill American troops, the government said this morning.
Mohamed Hamoud Alessa, 20, of North Bergen, and Carlos Eduardo “Omar” Almonte, 24, of Elmwood Park. were planning to board separate flights to Egypt when they were arrested late last night at JFK around 10:30 p.m.
Federal complaints say both men recently saved thousands of dollars, conditioned themselves through tactical training, ran dry runs at paintball fields, and bought combat gear.
“The defendants also discussed their obligation to wage violent jihad and at times expressed a willingness to commit acts of violence in the United States,” U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Paul Fishman said.
The plan, authorities said, was to head to Somalia and connect with a young Islamic terrorist group bent on killing American soldiers, he said.
UPDATE : Parents helped feds nab accused jihadists from Hudson and Bergen
However, federal and state investigators had been watching them for nearly four years, thanks to an undercover New York City Police Department detective who infiltrated the group, and witnessed them watching jihadist videos and reading literature, according to the Newark Star-Ledger .
They moved in at the perfect moment — catching both unaware as the two committed the first act that, to government officials, clearly showed their purpose.
And they literally got them boarding, reportedly moving in on the jet way ramp, out of view of the terminal.
“When Alessa and Almonte schemed to engage in violent jihad, we were listening. When they attempted to leave the country, we were waiting,” Fishman said.
While the arrests were happening, authorities sealed off 81st Street in North Bergen around Alessa’s house, while it was searched by the FBI, township police and NYPD investigators, among others.
The same exercise was repeated at Almonte’s Elmwood Park apartment about a half-hour later.
Authorities said the pair planned to fight as part of a Somalia-based Islamist terror group called al Shabaab (‘Mujahideen Youth Movement’), an al Qaeda-linked organization of several thousand soldiers spread through Somalia’s southern region.
“They only fear you when you have a gun and when you – when you start killing them, and when you – when you take their head, and you go like this, and you behead it on camera . . .,” Alessa told Almonte, in a secretly recorded conversation. “We’ll start doing killing here, if I can’t do it over there.”
In another conversation, Alessa told an undercover agent: “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.”
Those responsible for defusing the threat were led by the Joint Terrorism Task Force, including the FBI, state homeland security office, NYPD, Port Authority police and various federal security agencies. They called the investigation Operation Arabian Knight.
“We hope this will lead to a spider web of arrests,” a government official told the Ledger.
“The radicalization of our youth, like gang recruitment, is real and continues to pose concerns,” New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness (OHSP) Director Charles B. McKenna said. “We must be vigilant in stopping our young men and women from being co-opted and trained to do us harm.”
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