2 NJ terror suspects had brushes with authority

One's record includes arrests for aggravated assault and possession of a knife on school property


By Rohan Mascarenhas
Gloucester County Times

ELMWOOD PARK, N.J. — On a calm May afternoon last year in suburban Elmwood Park, Carlos Eduardo Almonte started to preach to his younger brother, Elvin, in the middle of their family's living room.

The oldest son in a Catholic family from the Dominican Republic, Carlos Almonte had recently embraced Islam as his religion, and now he hammered away at his brother with all the fervor of a convert, according to details in a police report.

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But Elvin, four years younger, stood his ground, saying he would not follow the religion.

Soon, according to the report, a brawl broke out between the brothers.

The clash is the first glimpse of the conflict in the Almonte home as it faced Carlos' growing radicalization. In just five years, the eldest son turned from a delinquent busted for underage drinking into a bearded fundamentalist ready to fight his own brother over his new-found faith.

The fighting that May afternoon grew so intense, the brothers' mother, Sabrina, tried to break up the fight and in the chaos was inadvertently bitten, leaving a cut and a bruise on her left arm, the report said.

An incensed Carlos Almonte - who at that time went by the name Omar - grabbed a glass picture frame from a table and smashed it across the back of his brother's head, the report said.

The revelations of the May 23, 2009, fight came as more details emerged about the lives of the two terrorism suspects who were arrested Saturday night as they tried to board flights Egypt from John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens.

Authorities say Almonte, 24, and a friend, Mohamed Mahmood Alessa, 20, had hoped to take up arms against American soldiers by joining al Shabaab, a Somali militant group with ties to al Qaida.

In addition to the assault and weapons charges stemming from the fight with his brother, Carlos Almonte was also arrested three times in 2004 and accused of underage drinking, fighting and bringing a knife to school.

Alessa's behavior also caused concern as he bounced from school to school as a teenager. An official at KAS Prep, an alternative school in Hudson County to which Alessa transferred in 2005, said Alessa talked about mutilating homosexuals, subordinating women in the name of Islam and bringing a gang of Muslims to blow up the school.

Tuesday, Almonte's sister, Ingrid Almonte, said she blamed Alessa for turning her brother against his family.

"This guy Mohamed brought a lot of trouble," she said. "My father didn't want him in the house. ... He brainwashed (Carlos) and tried to convert us too."

Authorities have not said how Almonte met Alessa, who is of Palestinian descent and was born in Jersey City. It is also unclear what prompted Almonte, who was born in the Dominican Republic and raised as a Catholic, to convert to Islam.

As a young boy, Alessa joined a Boy Scout group in North Bergen. He worked earnestly to restore a local bird sanctuary as part of a scouting project.

"Everyone called him 'Mo,'" recalled Antonio Ferrer, 59, of North Bergen, the group's supervisor. "He was a good boy with me. He called me 'sir.'"

But troubling signs emerged after 9/11.

"He was talking to the other kids, and he said, 'Osama bin Laden is a hero in my family,'" Ferrer said. "He was saying things like, 'I want to grow up to be a martyr.'"

Alessa said he heard family members praise bin Laden, Ferrer said.

As other boys and parents began to complain, Ferrer said he asked Alessa to leave the group. That was the last time he saw the boy, he said.

Alessa and Almonte had their first court appearance Monday. They are being held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn pending a bail hearing tomorrow. Assistant U.S. Attorney L. Judson Welle said he plans to ask for them to be detained, arguing they are dangerous flight risks.

Tuesday morning, Almonte's mother was taken to the hospital. She cried as she left the family's home in Elmwood Park to a waiting ambulance. Details on her condition were not available Tuesday.

"I still love him. I just can't believe he'd do something like that," Almonte's sister, Ingrid, said afterward. "He was a nice guy. He never showed any signs."

Copyright 2010 Gloucester County Times

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