Two New Jersey men accused of conspiring to kill, maim and kidnap people outside the U.S. by joining a Somali terrorist group are negotiating guilty pleas that would avert a trial, court records show.
Mohamed Alessa, 21, and Carlos Almonte, 24, had their case continued because “plea negotiations are currently in progress,” according to an order signed Oct. 13 by U.S. Magistrate Judge Madeline Cox Arleo in federal court in Newark, New Jersey. The men face life in prison if convicted.
David Holman, a lawyer for Alessa, and Rebekah Carmichael, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, declined to comment. James Patton, a lawyer for Almonte, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.
The suspects have been in custody since their June 5 arrest at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, where they tried to fly to Egypt on their way to join the Islamic Al-Shabaab movement in Somalia, prosecutors said.
An undercover police officer who spoke Arabic recorded the men discussing and preparing for violent jihad overseas, prosecutors said. Alessa and Almonte made an initial appearance before Arleo on June 7, when prosecutors urged their detention.
At a June 10 hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Kogan said the men are accused of a violent crime and that the evidence is strong and includes recorded conversations. He noted that they were arrested at the airport. Alessa lived in North Bergen and Almonte lived in Elmwood Park at the time of their arrests.
In denying bail, Arleo said that Alessa is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Jordan, where he has made repeated trips. Almonte is a dual citizen of the U.S. and the Dominican Republic, which he also has visited, and has a criminal history that includes assault charges, the judge said.
The undercover officer met the two men in November and recorded them speaking of holy war, according to a complaint by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“My soul cannot rest until I shed blood,” Alessa told Almonte and the undercover agent, according to the complaint. “I wanna, like, be the world’s known terrorist.”
Alessa 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,” according to the complaint. “We’ll start doing killing here, if I can’t do it over there.”
The complaint paraphrased Almonte, speaking in April, as saying “there would soon be American troops in Somalia, which was good because it would not be fun to kill only Africans.”
The suspects played video games and listened to recordings promoting violent jihadist attacks, according to the complaint. In February 2007, the two men flew to Jordan and tried to sign on as mujahedeen fighters, the FBI said.
The men worked out in gyms, played paintball, engaged in tactical training, and acquired military gear such as Russian-made night-vision binoculars, according to the FBI.