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Judge sets sentencing date for North Jersey men in overseas terror case

Noth Jersey
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
By Peter J Sampson

This combo of two undated mugs provided by the U.S. Marshals on Wednesday June 9, 2010 shows Carlos Almonte, left and Mohamed Alessa, right.

A federal judge in Newark has set a sentencing date of Feb. 4. for two North Jersey men who pleaded guilty last year to charges of conspiring to commit murder overseas on behalf of an al-Qaida-affiliated group operating in Somalia.

U.S. District Judge Dickinson R. Debevoise signed a pair of scheduling orders on Monday, formally setting a new date for the sentencing of Mohamed Alessa, 23, of North Bergen and Carlos E. Almonte, 26, of Elmwood Park.

The judge also ordered the defendants to provide the government and the U.S. Probation Office by Nov. 30 with any supplemental reports from a team of psychologists and psychiatrists who have examined them.

The case had been in limbo for many months while Alessa’s lawyer traveled to Jordan and Palestine to interview relatives, and doctors conducted psychological evaluations and interviews to assist the judge in fashioning an appropriate sentence.

The defendants, both U.S. citizens, have been in custody since they were arrested by the FBI on June 5, 2010, at John F. Kennedy International Airport as they were about to board separate planes to Egypt on the first leg of a journey to Somalia.

During the investigation, an undercover New York City police officer recorded the men talking about beheading Americans and sending them home in body bags. In one recording, Alessa said he would start killing non-believers of Islam in the United States if he was unable to do so abroad.

Alessa, who was born in Jersey City, is the son of Palestinian immigrants. Almonte, a native of the Dominican Republic, is a naturalized citizen who converted to Islam.

In March 2011, the two men admitted they planned to travel to Somalia to join al-Shabaab, a designated terrorist organization, knowing that it was staging attacks against the government and multinational peacekeeping forces in the East African country.

Their guilty pleas were entered as a “package” deal in which both men had to admit their guilt. Under the agreement, they can appeal only if sentenced to more than 30 years in prison, while prosecutors can appeal only if they get less than 15 years.

The judge can impose any sentence up to life in prison, but defense lawyers are hoping he will be lenient given their clients’ youth and the fact that they never engaged in violence.

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