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School: NJ terror suspect was dangerous as student

June 8, 2010 9:37:25 AM PDT
One of two terrorism suspects arrested at an airport over the weekend was considered so dangerous as a student that he was removed from the local high school and was taught in a private room at a public library with a security guard present, school officials said Tuesday.

Mohamed Mahmood Alessa was placed "on home instruction" three months after transferring from an Islamic high school in 2004, North Bergen High School spokesman Paul Swibinski said.

Swibinski declined to say what made officials consider Alessa to be dangerous, but said it was not a specific incident or physical altercation, but more a pattern of behavior.

"School officials were very concerned about having him in the building," Swibinski said. "They were concerned for the safety of the other students and the staff."

Authorities say Alessa, 20, and Carlos Eduardo Almonte, 24, tried to fly out of New York's Kennedy Airport on Saturday in hopes of getting terrorism training in Somalia. Alessa, who was born in the United States, is the son of Palestinian immigrants. Almonte is a naturalized citizen who was born in the Dominican Republic. Both are Muslim.

The two made their first federal court appearance Monday in Newark, and both requested court-appointed attorneys. A call to Alessa's attorney was not immediately returned Tuesday.

Alessa attended ninth grade at the Al-Huda School, a private Islamic school in Paterson, a city about 15 miles from Manhattan that is the heart of New Jersey's diverse Arab-American community.

Al-Huda issued a statement saying they were "both shocked and saddened by the allegations," against Alessa. "We strive to educate our children to be successful and to be good citizens," the school said in a statement.

Alessa was very violent and his family told educators that they were seeking professional help for him, said a former teacher at the school who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing Alessa's privacy.

Alessa transferred to North Bergen High School in December 2004, and Al-Huda officials said they had no further contact with him.

By February 2005, he had been placed on "home instruction," Swibinski said. Teachers were so concerned about Alessa's behavior, Swibinski said, that they refused to work with him at his home, instead holding classes at a public library with a school security guard present.

In September 2005, Alessa transferred to KAS Prep, an alternative high school in North Bergen run by the Hudson County School of Technology, according to Swibinski. Alessa was there for one semester, and school officials had "serious security concerns" with him there, Swibinski said.

Alessa returned to North Bergen High School in March 2006 and was immediately placed on home instruction again.

In October 2007, an Islamic school in East Orange requested Alessa's records, according to Swibinski.

In February 2007, school records show he withdrew from the school system and moved to Jordan, according to Swibinski.

Investigators said in court papers that both defendants went to Jordan, bringing with them camouflage clothing, flashlights and CamelBak hydration packs.

Law enforcement became aware of Alessa and Almonte in the fall of 2006, when the FBI received an anonymous tip through its website, according to a criminal complaint. Some family members cooperated with investigators, authorities said.

Swibinski said the North Bergen school system had been in contact with Homeland Security and local law enforcement officials about Alessa while he was a student.

"In retrospect, that was clearly the right thing to do," Swibinski said.

Investigators say Alessa and Almonte intended to head to Somalia to seek terror training from al-Qaida-affiliated jihadists and to unleash attacks against fellow Americans.

The men had no contact with Somali terrorists, according to officials and court documents, and their planned trip to Somalia amounted to a leap of faith that they would be accepted by a terrorist group.

Alessa and Almonte are being held without bail pending a detention hearing Thursday. If convicted, they could face life in prison.

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