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Long IslandSuffolk

Marcos Zea takes plea deal, admits intent to join al-Qaida

Marcos Alonso Zea, 26, of Brentwood, admitted Tuesday,

Marcos Alonso Zea, 26, of Brentwood, admitted Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014, to his intent to join al-Qaida, agreeing in a plea deal to a 25-year prison term to avoid a potential life sentence. Credit: Handout, File

A Brentwood man admitted in a federal plea Tuesday that he had intended to join al-Qaida, in a deal with prosecutors that spared him a potential life prison sentence had his case gone before a Long Island jury.

In exchange for his plea, Marcos Alonso Zea, 26, will be sentenced to 25 years in prison later this year. He pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization and to obstruction of justice.

Federal prosecutors agreed to drop three other charges -- including conspiracy to commit murder in a foreign country, after Zea's plea.

Zea spoke mutedly before U.S. District Court Judge Sandra J. Feuerstein at federal court in Central Islip.

"I bought a ticket to Yemen with the intention to join Ansar al-Sharia, which is also known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, knowing it was a terrorist organization," he said.

He is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 14.

Zea was arrested on a five-count indictment in October 2013 by FBI agents on charges he attempted to join the al-Qaida group in Yemen, and because he was conspiring with a previously arrested Babylon man, Justin Kaliebe, 18, to wage "violent jihad," officials said.

Federal prosecutors tied Zea's actions to that of Kaliebe, who lived in both Babylon and Bay Shore, and who pleaded guilty in June to similar charges. Kaliebe is awaiting sentencing.

In court Tuesday, Zea also told the court he had asked a friend "to erase my hard drive because I was being investigated by the FBI," because he didn't want it known that he had visited extremist websites.

The Zea and Kaliebe plot began in 2011, when they agreed to join the Yemeni terrorist group, according to a court document filed by Eastern District federal terrorism prosecutors John Durham, Seth DuCharme and Michael Canty.

Neither Zea nor Kaliebe knew that another member of their group was an undercover agent taping them, the prosecutor's document said.

In January 2012, Zea flew to London en route to Yemen, but was turned back to the United States by British authorities because he lacked a Yemeni visa, according to the document.

"Even though he was prevented from traveling to Yemen . . . Zea continued to provide encouragement and financial assistance to Kaliebe, who was also plotting to travel to Yemen," the document continued.

Kaliebe was arrested in January 2013 at Kennedy Airport, about to board a plane to Yemen.

After Kaliebe's arrest, Zea was interviewed by members of the federal Joint Terrorism Task Force, and, sensing that investigators were "closing in on him," prosecutors said, Zea asked an unnamed associate to "destroy evidence of his guilt" by erasing three of his computer hard drives.

The erasures were not totally successful, and when investigators seized the hard drives by search warrant, technicians found what the prosecutors termed "a variety of jihadist materials."

Zea lived with his parents, Sandra and Alvaro Zea; they attended Tuesday's proceeding and declined to comment.

Defense attorney Marc Bogatin and prosecutor Durham also declined to comment.

With Gary Dymski

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