NEWARK - NEWARK - Heavily shackled and manacled, the two men arrested at Kennedy Airport for hoping to join an Islamist terrorist organization in Somalia had an initial appearance in federal court here Monday on a complaint charging them with conspiracy to kill, maim and kidnap persons outside the United States.
But while Almonte seemed dazed and showed no other emotion, Alessa appeared almost jubilant. Several times, he turned, smiling, and gave a hand signal with a raised forefinger and spread thumb, in an apparent No. 1 sign, toward his parents sitting in the fourth floor courtroom packed with reporters.
Each man spoke only briefly, telling U.S. Magistrate Madeline Cox Arleo that they understood the charges against them, that they agreed with her that they could not afford lawyers, and that she should appoint public defenders to represent them.
The two, who were arrested Saturday, were not required to enter a plea.
Assistant U.S. Attorney L. Judson Welle had asked that the men be permanently detained without bail as a danger to the community and a flight risk. Arleo ordered them to be held, pending a hearing on Thursday.
After the court proceedings, the U.S. attorney for New Jersey, Paul Fishman, was asked if the two had the capabilities of carrying out their stated desire to carry out some kind of attack.
The federal complaint said they were turned down in 2007 when they had tried to join a terrorist group in Jordan. The complaint also gave no indication the two had any military training or contacts in Somalia.
Fishman replied that "sophistication is not necessarily a measure of danger," in an apparent reference to the recent unsuccessful attempt to detonate a car bomb in Times Square. "I think we would be remiss if we didn't pay attention to anyone who has the intention . . . to join a violent jihad to commit acts of violence against people either here or abroad," he added.
In the criminal complaint, the two are quoted as having the following conversation, with Almonte starting by saying, apparently sarcastically: "I just want the [U.S.] troops to come back home safely and cozily."
Alessa: "In body bags, in caskets."
Almonte: "In caskets."