Two men were arrested at John F. Kennedy international airport in New York over the weekend and charged with “conspiring to kill, maim, and kidnap persons outside the United States”, according to an announcement by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

The arrests came just before the men were about to board separate flights to Egypt on their way to Somalia to join Al Shabaab, a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, and “wage violent jihad”.

The men were identified as U.S. citizens Mohamed Mahmood Alessa (20) and Carlos Eduardo Almonte (24), both from New Jersey. The FBI said their team had been “waiting for the defendants at the airport holding arrest warrants”. The two men were expected to appear before a Magistrate Judge in a Newark federal court on June 7.

According to a Criminal Complaint note unsealed over the weekend, the FBI received a tip concerning the men’s activities in October 2006. Following an investigation, undercover officers reportedly recorded numerous meetings and conversations with them, during which the men discussed and prepared to carry out their plan.

Preparing for Jihad

The FBI remarked that the preparations made by Alessa and Almonte included saving thousands of dollars, physically conditioning themselves, engaging in paintball and other tactical training, acquiring military gear and apparel for use overseas, and purchasing airline tickets to Egypt with the intent to then travel to Somalia. The Bureau added that the defendants also discussed their “obligation to wage violent jihad and at times expressed a willingness to commit acts of violence in the U.S.”.

Quoting an excerpt of the conversation between the suspects, the FBI said the two men had remarked, "They only fear you when you have a gun and when you start killing them, and when you take their head, and you go like this, and you behead it on camera... We’ll start doing killing here, if I can’t do it over there."

The FBI also reported that on April 25 Almonte stated there would soon be American troops in Somalia, “which was good because it would not be as gratifying to kill only Africans”. The Bureau added that the defendants watched and played for the undercover officer numerous video and audio recordings that promoted violent jihad, including lectures by Yemen-based cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and videos featuring attacks by Al Shabaab and other terrorist groups.

Reports, in addition said Alessa referred in one conversation to Major Nidal Hasan, the army psychiatrist charged with shooting 13 people dead at the Fort Hood base in Texas last year. He apparently claimed, “He’s not better than me - I'll do twice what he did.”

Commenting on the case U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman said, “This case demonstrates the seriousness with which our Office and our law enforcement partners regard those who seek to join the ranks of violent extremists. When Alessa and Almonte schemed to engage in violent jihad, we were listening. When they attempted to leave the country, we were waiting. We will continue to be vigilant and to protect against terrorism no matter where its adherents intend to do harm.” If convicted of the charge, the defendants would face a maximum potential penalty of life in prison.

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