Two N.J. men arrested at JFK airport before boarding plane to join Islamist terrorist group, authorities say

By Josh Margolin/Statehouse Bureau

NEWARK — Two New Jersey men intent on killing American troops were arrested Saturday as they boarded flights to link up with a virulent jihadist group in Somalia, authorities said.

The men, both North Jersey residents, were charged with conspiring to commit an act of international terrorism through a group tied to Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network, according to officials familiar with the details of the arrests.

Mohamed Hamoud Alessa, 20, of North Bergen, and Carlos Eduardo Almonte, 26, of Elmwood Park were apprehended at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens before they could board separate flights to Egypt, where they were to start journeys to Somalia. The men were arrested by teams of state and federal law-enforcement agents who have been investigating the pair since October 2006, according to the officials, who requested anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the operation publicly.

Late Saturday night, the state homeland security agency confirmed a police action at the airport but gave few details.

“Two individuals were arrested at JFK in connection with an ongoing investigation. At this time, we can provide no further details because the investigation is ongoing. The arrests do not relate to an immediate threat,” said Jose Lozano, a spokesman for the state Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.

U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Rebekah Carmichael issued a similar statement just after midnight, , saying “the arrests do not relate to any known immediate threat to the public or active plot against the United States.”

About 90 minutes earlier, shortly after 10:30 p.m., FBI agents sealed off Alessa’s street in North Bergen. The local police department would say only that an investigation was in progress. FBI agents, North Bergen police and the New York Police Department descended on the home on 81st Street as neighbors looked on. According to property records, Alessa’s parents, Mahmoud and Nadia Alessa, rented the top floor of their house amid a quiet row of middle-class homes. As agents poured in, lights went on throughout the house.

Just over 10 miles away, in Elmwood Park, over a dozen cars with agents and police arrived at Almonte’s home about 11 p.m. Neighbors emerged from their homes as the racket from the raid broke the silence of quiet Falmouth Avenue. Again, agents turned on lights throughout the house, from the basement to the attic. They also could be seen looking around the exterior with flashlights and also searched the detached garage. Neighbors of Almonte declined to comment, but a couple who appeared to be family members showed up around 11:30 and greeted the agents as if they knew them.

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