NJ Undercover Unit Key in Terror Arrests

James (Jim) Cohen on WNYC, June 07, 2010

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NJ Undercover Unit Key in Terror Arrests
by Ailsa Chang

NEW YORK, NY June 07, 2010 —Two New Jersey men accused of planning to join a terrorist group in Somalia appeared in federal court in Newark Monday, where they were charged with conspiracy to kill, maim and kidnap persons outside the U.S.

Much of the evidence against them revolves around taped conversations with an undercover investigator about their intent to kill.

But Fordham Law professor Jim Cohen says the tape alone wouldn't have been enough to charge the two men with conspiracy.

"They had a lot of talk, but they had nothing until they bought the airline tickets, 'til they decided to take separate planes, 'til they did the training that they did," Cohen says.

The charges against Mohamed Alessa and and fellow defendant Carlos Almonte say they also conditioned themselves physically, practiced combat with paintball training, and saved thousands of dollars to further their plans.

At the same time, Alessa and Almonte are not believed to have formal contacts with the Somalia-based group they were allegedly hoping to join.

Alessa was 16 when law enforcement officials began monitoring him four years ago. He allegedly told an undercover investigator he planned to kill people abroad. Defense attorney Ed Wilford says Alessa's youth raises questions as to how early is too early to begin monitoring a teenager.

"If any of us sit back and think about the age from 16 to 20 -- in that four-year time period, the things that you thought about, would you really want law enforcement to use that as a basis for charging you with something?" Wilford says. "I mean, most people have not even reached full maturation."

Wilford says the evidence could show Alessa's actions go beyond talking to planning a criminal conspiracy.

Prosecutors want the pair held without bail. A second hearing is scheduled for later this week.