NEW YORK (AFP) Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Two men were in US police custody Monday charged with conspiracy to kill American troops abroad in what has been described by officials as the nation’s latest terror probe.
Mohamed Alessa, 20, and Carlos Almonte, 24, were detained late Saturday at New York’s John F. Kennedy airport as they sought to board planes to Egypt, with plans to travel on to Somalia, justice officials said.
They were accused of hatching a plot to commit “murder, kidnapping and maiming” of US citizens “at a place outside the United States,” according to a criminal complaint filed in a US court in the northeastern state of New Jersey.
Authorities said the men were caught as part of an undercover operation that spanned some three-and-a-half years, after being tipped off by an informant through the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s website.
The arrests follow a spate of failed attacks on US soil, including an attempted car bombing in Times Square by a Pakistani-born American on May 3 and the failed Christmas Day bombing of an airliner over Detroit by a Nigerian with explosives in his underwear.
An affidavit filed ahead of Saturday’s arrests said the two men were planning to go to Somalia to join Al-Shabaab, an organization of several thousand fighters with ties to Al-Qaeda.
They men had trained in “various hand-to-hand fighting tactics,” as well as in the simulated use of weapons, according to an affidavit from an FBI agent investigating the case, Samuel Robinson.
They also were secretly recorded making statements “promoting violent jihad.”
“The defendants discussed in substance and in part, violent jihadist groups operating in Somalia,” Robinson wrote.
The Newark Star Ledger newspaper said both men were US citizens who grew up going to school in United States.
In a partial transcript of one of the wiretaps, Alessa is quoted as saying to Almonte and to an undercover agent in November 2009: “A lot of people need to get killed… My soul cannot rest until I shed blood. I want to be the world’s (best) known terrorist.”
Regarding the US troops overseas, Almonte was quoted as saying: “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.
According to the affidavit, Alessa also referred in one conversation to Major Nidal Hasan, the army psychiatrist charged in the November 5 shooting that left 13 people dead at the Fort Hood base in Texas.
“He’s not better than me — I’ll do twice what he did,” Alessa boasted.
The document said Almonte gave the undercover agent money to deposit in a bank that he could access from overseas, so he could have funds while in Somalia. He gave him a total of 4,000 dollars in April and 4,100 in June.
The affidavit said Almonte and Alessa traveled together in February 2007 to Jordan, and that a search of their luggage by US customs officials prior to their departure found three Camelbak hydration systems of the type used by athletes training for endurance events, flashlights and camouflage clothing.
According to the Star Ledger, Mary Laboeria, a neighbor who lives three doors down from Almonte said she was surprised by the alleged ties to terrorism.
“I’m shocked. He graduated in our school system,” she told the paper. “It really hurts. We don’t need it.”
Around the time of the arrests, the homes of both men were searched by FBI agents, who carted away boxes of evidence, according to the daily.
The two men have been under FBI surveillance since 2006, officials said.
An undercover officer from the New York Police Department recorded many meetings and conversations with them, during which they discussed their plans.