NEW YORK, NY -- Two men living in New Jersey were captured at New York City's JFK International Airport as they were boarding flights on their way to joining an al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group in Somalia. The suspects are charged with conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism through a group tied to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, according to a New York Police Department source.
Mohamed Hamoud Alessa, 20, of North Bergen, New Jersey, and Carlos Eduardo Almonte, 26, of Elmwood Park, New Jersey, were intercepted at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens borough of New York City before they could board their flights to Egypt. Once in Cairo they intended to travel to war-torn Somalia and join the terrorist group al-Shabaab.
Police sources said the men planned to wage jihad as part of a Somalia-based Islamist terror group with several thousand fighters spread through Somalia's southern region. Al Shabaab, whose full Arabic name means "Mujahideen Youth Movement," has strong ties to al Qaeda, according to national security experts.
"Now, law enforcement officials appear increasingly concerned Al-Shabaab members are trying to come back to America. But these members aren't disenchanted young men... seeking to escape the terrorists' hold. Rather, the concern is that they are returning either to recruit more members or perhaps to plot attacks [in the U.S.]," said terrorism expert Steve Emerson of the Investigative Project on Terrorism.
Alessa and Almonte were nabbed by state police officers and federal law-enforcement agents who had been investigating the two suspects since 2006, according to the NYPD source, who requested anonymity.
Rebekah Carmichael of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Newark, NJ, issued a statement to the news media last night saying "[T]he arrests do not relate to any known immediate threat to the public or active plot against the United States."
Saturday night, FBI agents cordoned off Alessa's neighborhood in North Bergen. FBI agents, North Bergen town police and the New York Police Department detectives descended on the suspect's home located on 81st Street. Meanwhile, in Elmwood Park, FBI agents and local police officers swarmed Almonte's home and spent hours searching the suspect's home and carried out boxes and materials including a desktop computer. Mary Laboeria, a resident of Falmouth Avenue for nearly 40 years who lives three houses down from the Almonte residence, said she was surprised that someone on her street had any alleged ties to terrorism.
The two suspects are expected to appear in U.S. District Court in Newark on Monday morning.
The Alessa/Almonte case was called Operation Arabian Knight by law enforcement. The suspects had been under surveillance and were routinely followed by plainclothes New York City cops, some of whom befriended the suspects' friends and acquaintances. During this undercover operation the suspects watched jihadist videos, read radical Islamist literature, and purchased airline tickets.
Al Shabaab is listed by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist group.
Last Sunday, an Aeromexico flight from Paris to Mexico City was diverted to Montreal. American officials learned that the plane carried Abdirahman Ali Gaal, who is on the no-fly list and is suspected of having links to Al-Shabaab. Authorities didn't want his flight traveling over American air space, according to IPT's Emerson.
Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police and he's a columnist for The Examiner (examiner.com) and New Media Alliance (thenma.org). In addition, he's a blogger for the Cheyenne, Wyoming Fox News Radio affiliate KGAB (www.kgab.com). Kouri also serves as political advisor for Emmy and Golden Globe winning actor Michael Moriarty.
He's former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed "Crack City" by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for several major organizations. He's also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. Kouri writes for many police and security magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer and others. He's a news writer and columnist for AmericanDaily.Com, MensNewsDaily.Com, MichNews.Com, and he's syndicated by AXcessNews.Com. Kouri appears regularly as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Fox News Channel, Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, etc.