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Terrorism & Security

New Jersey men arrested at JFK on way to join Al Shabab in Somalia

The two New Jersey men arrested en route to Somalia to join the Al Qaeda-linked Al Shabab insurgency share at least one trait with other American jihadis: inspiration from Yemen-based US cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.

By Liam StackCorrespondent / June 7, 2010

The apartment where Mohamed Hamoud Alessa lived is shown in North Bergen, New Jersey, Sunday, June 6, 2010. Alessa is one of two New Jersey men arrested on Saturday for trying to join the militant group Al-Shabab in Somalia.

Amy Newman/The Record/MCT/Newscom

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Police arrested two New Jersey men at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport on Saturday as they prepared to travel to Somalia to join a militant group with the aim of killing American soldiers. They are the latest case of a phenomenon that officials find troubling: US citizens drawn to anti-American jihad.

The Star-Ledger of Newark, New Jersey, identifies the two men as Mohamed Mahmood Alessa, 20, a US citizen of Palestinian descent, and Carlos Eduardo “Omar” Almonte, 24, a naturalized US citizen who was born in the Dominican Republic. They were arrested at the airport as each prepared to board separate flights for Egypt, from where they planned to make their way to Somalia.

The two men appear to have been amateurs, and spent months before their arrest lifting weights, shopping for military-style outfits, playing shoot-‘em-up video games, and bragging about their intentions to undercover cops, according to the Associated Press (details of their routine found here.)

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The Associated Press reports that the two men stand accused of conspiring to maim, kill, and kidnap persons outside the United States by attempting to join Somali militant group Al Shabab, an Al Qaeda-linked militia that was designated a terrorist group by the United States in 2008. The group controls large swaths of Somalia, which has been without a central government since 1991. It is believed to be involved in the 1998 US Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

Police emphasized to the Star-Ledger that the arrests do not reflect an immediate threat to the United States, although The New York Times reports that last November Mr. Alessa told an undercover cop that if they could not wage jihad in Somalia then they would bring the fight home.

Last Nov. 29, for example, the complaint said that Mr. Alessa told Mr. Almonte and the undercover officer: “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.” He added: “We’ll start doing killing here, if I can’t do it over there.” Mr. Alessa used the Arabic words for gun and killing, according to the complaint.

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