Mohamed Hamoud Alessa, 20, and Carlos Eduardo Almonte, 26, were arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport before they could board separate flights to Egypt and then continue on to Somalia, The Star-Ledger of Newark reported. The newspaper cited officials familiar with the details of the arrests who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly.Elmwood Park is the next town over from where I live in Fair Lawn, and it isn't the first place that would spring to mind as being a hotbed of jihad sentiment.
Alessa, of North Bergen, and Almonte, of Elmwood Park, were charged with conspiring to commit an act of international terrorism through al-Shabaab, a violent extremist group based in Somalia and connected to al-Qaida, the officials told the newspaper. Al-Shabaab was designated by the U.S. as a terrorist group in 2008.
The FBI and the New York Police Department confirmed to The Associated Press that two men were arrested at the airport, but did not identify them or provide further details. FBI spokesman Richard Kolko in Washington said no threat was made at the airport; New York police spokesmen were not immediately available for comment.
Teams of state and federal law-enforcement agents who have been investigating Alessa and Almonte since 2006 took them into custody, the officials said. They are scheduled to appear Monday in federal court in Newark.
The arrests were made as part of an investigation known as Operation Arabian Knight. Authorities said an undercover NYPD officer had infiltrated the suspects' group of friends and was able to monitor their consumption of jihadist videos and literature, overseas travel preparations, and purchase of airline tickets.
The two men had planned their trip Somalia for several months, saving thousands of dollars, undergoing tactical training and test runs at paintball fields to condition themselves physically, and acquiring equipment and clothing they could use when they joined al-Shabaab in Somalia, the officials said. Both had bragged about wanting to wage holy war against the United States both at home and internationally, investigators said.
Al Shabaab is an al Qaeda affiliate and has repeatedly declared its allegiance to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. The group has been quite active in Somalia and is a major player in that failed state.
Law enforcement was in the process of searching both homes late into the night searching for evidence.
Alessa and Almonte are scheduled to appear in federal court in Newark on Monday on multiple charges. Don't expect that to be the end of the investigation.
The prosecution of Alessa and Almonte is being led by New Jersey’s new U.S. attorney, Paul Fishman. In a meeting with The Star-Ledger’s editorial board last month, Fishman hinted there were serious national-security investigations on the verge of becoming public, though he declined to say anything more.
"There are cases in the pipeline that are of huge significance," Fishman said.