What Threat From Arrested Somali Terror Recruits?

Evaluating the danger from al-Shabaab and their would-be New Jersey followers arrested at JFK

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Federal and New Jersey police arrested two Americans late on Saturday for attempting to fly to Somalia allegedly in order to join the terror group al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda-allied insurgency that is waging civil war in Somalia. The two New Jersey men, 20 year old Mohamed Mahmood Alessa and 24 year old Carlos Eduardo Almonte, have likely been charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism. What does this mean and how big of a deal is it?

  • How Big of a Threat?  The New York Times' William Rashbaum evaluates the arrest. "Though the picture that emerged of Mr. Alessa and Mr. Almonte from the criminal complaint raised questions as to whether they would have been capable of mounting a sophisticated attack on their own, their arrests were nonetheless seen as a cause for concern," he writes. "The suspects, both United States citizens, physically conditioned themselves, engaged in paintball and tactical training, saved thousands of dollars for their trip, and acquired military gear and apparel, according to the complaint. They talked about what they said was their obligation to wage violent jihad, and at times expressed a willingness to commit acts of violence in the United States."
  • It's Unclear They Committed Any Crimes  Joshua Foust muses, "So these jersey boy terrorists make me wonder where the line is between conspiracy and thought crime anymore. Their crime is: listening to al-awlaki, hating America/kafirs, wanting to go to Somalia, working out and buying army clothes. What's criminal? What am I missing? Is expressing a desire to fight US troops in another country and hating America a crime now?" The blogger sighs, "I just don't get where being an asshole is terrorism."
  • Why This Generation of Home-Grown Terrorists?  Spencer Ackerman wonders, "at this point it’s necessary to ask why we’re seeing an uptick in domestic radicalism. The easy answer — and I stress this is just a theory — is that the generation of American Muslims who were young kids and teenagers during 9/11 have grown up seeing what looks like American aggression toward Muslims, making an extremely small cohort within those communities susceptible to the incitement of the conspiracy theorists and murderers who preach al-Qaedism."
  • Little Threat From Al-Shabaab to U.S.  The New York Times' Eric Schmitt writes, "About 20 Americans have joined Al Shabab, and at least half a dozen have been killed in fighting in Somalia, according to their friends and relatives. Law enforcement officials fear that the recruits, often young men in their 20s who hold American passports, could be tapped to return to the United States to carry out attacks here, though so far there is no evidence of any such plot." He says the recruits are brought in to "help wage an intensifying civil war" and not necessarily for anti-U.S. terrorism.
  • ...Of Course They're a Threat  National Review's Daniel Foster notes "the disturbing inroads the Grand Jihad has made in Minnesota" and laments "the government's verbal backflips to avoid coming to grips with what is actually causing the Somalia-America pipeline, which has been shipping jihadists back and forth for a few years now." He insists that al-Shabaab recruits aren't interested in the Somali civil war but in "a call to jihad that sounded in mosques from Minneapolis to Mecca."
  • Another Terror Victory for Obama  The Moderate Voice's Jerry Remmers calls this "another positive victory for the Obama administration which is not being given full credit for its successes." Remmers lists past successes.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.