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On June 5, 2010, two Muslim men from New Jersey,[1][2] Mohamed Mahmood Alessa and Carlos "Omar" Eduardo Almonte, were arrested at Kennedy International Airport in New York City in a covert operation named "Operation Arabian Knight". They were bound for Somalia, having said they intended to join an Islamic terrorist group, Al-Shahab, in order to kill American troops.[3][4][5] They were charged with conspiring to kill, maim, and kidnap people outside the U.S.[3][4][5]

The arrests followed those of other radicalized Americans charged with terrorism-related offenses, such as Faisal Shahzad, charged in the failed Times Square bombing, and Nidal Malik Hasan, the suspected Fort Hood shooter.[3][4][5]

The two have been denied bail, and a preliminary hearing has been set for June 21 on the charges they face.[6]

The arrestsEdit

The two men had checked in and were preparing to board separate connecting flights to Cairo, Egypt.[7] From there they planned to travel to Somalia by boat, to join Al-Shahab.[7][8][9][5][10][11]

They were allowed to make it to the jetway boarding ramps before they were apprehended.[12] Federal prosecutors had insisted that they be allowed to go to the airport, and begin the boarding process, to limit the chance they could later say they had abandoned their plans.[12] It also increased the possibility the Federal Bureau of Investigation could hear any last-minute phone calls the men might make before boarding their flights.[7] Both Alessa and the 220-pound Almonte reportedly resisted arrest.[6][10][13]

The covert investigation of the two, known as "Operation Arabian Knight", had begun as two separate probes after the FBI and New Jersey Homeland Security detectives received separate tips about the two men.[12][14][15][16] The arrests were coordinated by the Joint Terrorism Task Force, and were followed by raids on two homes in New Jersey.[14][15][16]

The suspectsEdit

Mohamed Mahmood Alessa Edit

Alessa, a dual U.S.-Jordanian citizen from North Bergen, New Jersey, born in Jersey City, New Jersey, to Palestinian and Jordanian parents, was 20 years old at the time of his arrest.[17][4][10][18][19]

After 9/11, when other families on his block displayed American flags, his home hung a Palestinian flag.[20] He reportedly began to tell other children in his Boy Scout group that Osama bin Laden was a hero in his family, and that he wanted to grow up to be a martyr.[21] When other boys and their parents complained, he was asked to leave the group.[21] As a teenager, he began to spend time with a gang who called themselves the P.L.O., or the Arabian Knights.[17][4][22]

He attended ninth grade at the Al-Huda School, a private Islamic religious high school in Paterson, New Jersey. He then transferred to North Bergen High School in December 2004.[2][23] Within three months, he was placed on administrative "home instruction" for "radicalized behavior that was very threatening," according to a school spokesman.[24][23] In September 2005, he transferred to KAS Prep, an alternative high school in North Bergen, which he attended for one semester.[2] He attended Bergen Community College from the Spring of 2009 through the Spring of 2010.[25][26] Officials at several schools described him as violent.[27]

He appeared to be an observant Muslim to neighbors, though one neighbor said he had seen Alessa drink alcohol.[17] While his beard was generally long, he occasionally shaved it off, according to the neighbor. His landlord said Alessa visited Jordan about two years prior to his arrest, for six months.[17]

Alessa reportedly said: “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.”[28] He discussed carrying out a suicide bombing in the U.S., adding: “We’ll start doing killing here, if I can’t do it over there.”[4][29] And: “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.”[4]

He allegedly would wield a large knife, and boast to family members that he would kill U.S. agents.[30] Speaking of Nidal Malik Hasan, who allegedly killed 13 Americans at Fort Hood, he reportedly was recorded saying he would outdo him: "He's not better than me. I'll do twice what he did."[11] According to court documents he also said: "My soul cannot rest until I shed blood. I wanna, like, be the world's known terrorist."[25]

Carlos "Omar" Eduardo AlmonteEdit

Almonte, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Santiago in the Dominican Republic, who has joint U.S.-Dominican citizenship, arrived in the U.S. at the age of five.[31][32] He was 24 years old at the time of his arrest, and lived in Elmwood Park, New Jersey, where he had graduated from Elmwood Park Memorial High School in 2005.[17][4][1][31] While in high school, he was arrested in 2004 both for aggravated assault, and for weapons possession.[33][27]

He converted to Islam four to five years prior to his arrest, renaming himself "Omar".[4][34][34][35][36] At the end of 2006 FBI agents talked with Almonte and a family member, and in March 2007 the FBI conducted a consensual search of his computer, which contained documents advocating jihad.[25]

José Padilla, the Hispanic-American convert to Islam convicted in 2007 of conspiracy to murder, kidnap, and maim, and to materially aid terrorists, and Bryant Neal Vinas, the American son of Peruvian and Argentinean parents who converted to Islam and plead guilty in 2009 to participating in and supporting Al-Qaeda plots, are Islamic converts of Hispanic origin who preceded him in being arrested for terrorism.[22]

"Death to all Juice"Edit

Almonte had posted a photo of himself demonstrating with a large placard, bearing the inscription "Death To All Juice" (sic), at the 2008 Israel Day Parade in New York City, on his Facebook page noted The Jawa Report.[37][38][39][40] At the time of its public release, the photo had sparking a debate over whether the man was an illiterate anti-Semite, or a pro-Israel plant trying to make the protesters appear to be illiterate anti-Semites.[38][41]

True/Slant featured the photo in an article entitled "Meet America's Dumbest Jihadis", with the caption: "Carlos Almonte: The only thing he hates more than Jews is English class".[42] A supervisor at a New Jersey computer shop at which he worked for more than a year said: "I'm telling you, this kid is not smart."[43]

Collective activitiesEdit

The two lived 12 miles apart in New Jersey.[17] They had been under Federal Bureau of Investigation scrutiny since October 2006.[4][44] Recordings of them discussing their plans at a number of meetings were made by a New York Police Department undercover officer.[4]

The two reportedly traveled to Jordan in February 2007, and tried without success to get into Iraq. According to Almonte, they tried unsuccessfully to become mujahedeen to fight against U.S. troops, and were “upset with the individuals who failed to recruit them".[4][10][11][45]

File:Drexelbreakout.jpg

They had simulated combat at an outdoor paintball facility in West Milford, New Jersey, and engaged in tactical training, trained in hand-to-hand combat, and acquired military gear and combat apparel, according to the complaint against them.[46][4][47][48] The allegation about their paintball training was similar to the use by the 11 men, convicted of comprising the Virginia Jihad Network, of paintball training to simulate small-unit tactical operations, according to prosecutors.[47][49][48] It was also reminiscent of the 2007 use of paintball training by five Muslims later convicted of preparing to kill American soldiers in an attack on Fort Dix, New Jersey, officials said.[49][48][50]

They talked about what they said was their obligation to wage violent jihad, expressed a willingness to commit acts of violence in the U.S., and talked of the best ways to chop off their victims' heads, according to the federal complaint.according to the complaint.[4][51]

Regarding the U.S. soldiers overseas, Almonte reportedly said: "I just want the troops to come back home safely and cozily." "In body bags – in caskets," Alessa said. "In caskets," Almonte agreed. "Sliced up in a thousand pieces, cozy in the grave, in hell," added Alessa.[52][53]

Inspiration: Anwar al-AwlakiEdit

File:Anwar al-Awlaki sitting on couch, lightened.jpg

Authorities said Anwar al-Awlaki's ability to sway young Western men to wage jihad is at the heart of plot by the two New Jersey men.[54]

The men watched video and audio recordings promoting violent jihad, including lectures by al-Awlaki, who is suspected of inciting Muslims to violence.[4] Almonte reportedly kept an audio recording of al-Awlaki on his cell phone, in which al-Awlaki lectured about the importance of violent jihad and different types of martyrs, watched a jihadist video in which al-Awlaki justified the killing of civilians in the course of waging violent jihad, and shared with others a pamphlet on jihad by al-Awlaki.[47][44]

Al-Awlaki has also praised al-Shabab.[47][55] Authorities said the two men were among a number of U.S. terrorism suspects inspired by al-Awlaki. He is believed to have helped inspire the 2009 Fort Hood shooting, the failed 2009 Christmas Day bombing, the failed 2010 Times Square bombing, and those convicted in the 2007 Fort Dix plot.[25][56][57]

ChargesEdit

File:Fed29jail5bbtjeh.JPG

The suspects were charged with conspiring to kill, maim, and kidnap people outside the U.S.[4] The same law has been used in the 2010 charging of Colleen LaRose, otherwise known as Jihad Jane.[50] If convicted, they could each face a sentence of life in prison, and fines of up to $250,000.[4] Federal prosecutors will reportedly seek life sentences in the case.[58]

On June 7, 2010, the tall, bearded men appeared before Magistrate Judge Madeline Cox Arleo in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey in Newark, New Jersey.[6][59][60] Lawyers were appointed to represent them, and a bail hearing was scheduled for June 10, and a preliminary hearing for June 21 on the charges they face.[6]

On June 10, Magistrate Arleo denied the two men bail, citing the seriousness of the charges against them, the credibility of the evidence, and the risk of flight.[61][18] They are being held at the Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center.[62]

Al-ShahabEdit

File:Somalia Islamic Courts Flag.svg

The two were seeking to join the violent hard-line Islamic extremist group al-Shahab in Somalia when they were arrested.[3][5][11] Al-Shahab was designated a terrorist group by the U.S. in 2008.[63][64] It has several thousand militants, and claims ideological kinship with al-Qaeda.[65][66] It has recruited hundreds of foreign fighters to help fight a civil war in Somalia, and some of the recruits had been killed.[3][4][11] Approximately 20 Americans have joined Al-Shabab, and at least six have been killed, according to friends and relatives.[3]

The group's Islamist ideology calls for amputations and public stonings for violations of Islamic law, and prohibits music and television.[3] Osama Bin Laden has also praised al-Shabab.[47]

Its leaders have reputedly worked closely with terrorists of al-Qaeda in Yemen and Pakistan.[3] It is thought to have harbored al-Qaeda terrorists responsible for the 1998 Kenya and Tanzania U.S. embassy bombings.[4][67]

ReferencesEdit

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