Two New Jersey men accused of trying to join a terrorist group in Somalia must remain behind bars pending trial, a federal magistrate judge ruled Thursday, citing potential danger to the community and risk of flight.
Mohamed Mahmood Alessa and Carlos Eduardo Almonte were ordered held without bail.
The two were arrested Saturday night as they prepared to board separate planes from New York's Kennedy Airport to Egypt. From there, authorities say, the 20-year-old Alessa and Almonte, 24, planned to travel to Somalia to seek terror training from al-Qaida-affiliated jihadists.
The men had no contact with Somali terrorists but hoped they would be accepted by a terrorist group, according to officials and court documents. Both are charged with conspiracy to kill, harm and kidnap persons outside the United States and could face life in prison if convicted.
Alessa was born in the United States to Palestinian immigrants. Almonte is a naturalized citizen who was born in the Dominican Republic. Both are Muslim.
School officials, law enforcement authorities and court records have painted a picture of two as trouble-prone young men.
Officials at several schools described Alessa as a disruptive and violent youth who ultimately had to be taught separately from other students and under the watchful eye of a security guard. Almonte's criminal record includes arrests for aggravated assault and weapons possession.
Those accounts were amplified Thursday by a man who said he came to know Alessa, and to a lesser extent Almonte, over the last several years through various mosques in northern New Jersey.
Andrew Elliott characterized both men as "immature" and said Alessa in particular appeared to have channeled his anger in the wrong direction.
"He was a troubled teen" who may have become more interested in Islam to "become more religious, become a better Muslim," Elliott said outside the courtroom. "But he went about it the wrong way," he added.
The federal complaint quotes Alessa talking to an informant about murdering nonbelievers and saying, "my soul cannot rest until I shed blood."
Alessa was enrolled in classes at Bergen Community College in northern New Jersey since spring 2009, though a school spokeswoman said records didn't reflect whether he had graduated or what classes he had taken.
Elliott said the last time he saw Alessa was a few weeks ago at a mosque in Teaneck with some of his college classmates. Also in attendance was Mohammad Abbasi, founder of a mosque in nearby Union City frequented by Alessa's father.
"I think there was a teacher with them, and the class was seeking to find out more about the faith," Abbasi said. "He conducted himself like he should, listening and contributing to the conversation. He didn't say anything that would raise eyebrows."
Associated Press writer Samantha Henry contributed to this report.
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