American Men Arrested En Route to Join Somali Terrorist Group

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After a lengthy investigation, dubbed Operation Arabian Knight by federal agents, two American men have been arrested on suspicion of terrorist activities.

Mohamed Mahmood Alessa, 20, and Carlos Eduardo Almonte, 24, were apprehended at New York’s Kennedy Airport as they attempted to travel first to Egypt and then to Somalia, where they hoped to join a terrorist group called al-Shabab.

Al-Shabab is an Islamist terrorist group that is affiliated with al-Qaida, and has also been called “the Taliban of Somalia.” It is designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. State Department, and the group is said to be in control of most of the southern and central regions of Somalia, including much of Mogadishu, the capital.

Alessa and Almonte, who are both American citizens from New Jersey, had intended to join al-Shabab in order to “wage violent jihad” against non-Muslims, according to prosecutors. For several years they had been saving money, training and planning for the venture. For much of that time, they were being investigated by the FBI—who had received a tip in October 2006, informing them that Alessa and Almonte were accessing terrorist videos on the Internet.

An undercover officer with the New York Police Department made numerous recordings of the men as they discussed their plan to travel to Somalia. In November 2009, for example, Alessa said, “We’ll start doing killing here, if I can’t do it over there.” He also compared himself to Nidal Hasan, the Army major who is accused of killing 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, saying “He’s not better than me. I’ll do twice what he did.”

Agents also conducted a search of Almonte’s computer, revealing documents that called for jihad against perceived enemies of Islam. The men had previously traveled together to Jordan, and attempted to go to Iraq to fight, but were rejected by jihadists.

Despite their intentions, say authorities, the men’s preparation for actually committing terrorist acts or waging jihad were shoddy. They had only two folding knives, and had done little to train besides lifting weights and playing video games and paintball together. Additionally, according to terrorism experts, it’s not likely that the insurgent group would have accepted Alessa and Almonte’s bid to join them, since most new recruits to al-Shabab and other terrorist organizations require sponsorship or an introduction by an existing member.

Alessa and Almonte are being held in on charges of conspiring to kill, maim and kidnap persons outside the United States. If convicted on all charges, they could be sentenced to life in prison.

 

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