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Terror suspect showed 'radicalized behavior' in school

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Two N.J. men face terror charges
  • Mohamed Alessa exhibited "threatening" behavior, school spokesman says
  • Court papers: Alessa and friend sought to join terror organization
  • School spokesman says charges are not surprising
  • Bail hearing set for Thursday

Newark, New Jersey (CNN) -- One of two men arrested over the weekend on terrorism charges was twice put on "home instruction" for exhibiting threatening, "radicalized behavior" during his high school years, a school spokesman said Tuesday.

Mohamed Mahmood Alessa, 20, of North Bergen, New Jersey, and Carlos Eduardo Almonte, 24, of Elmwood Park, New Jersey, are charged with one count each of conspiracy to kill, maim and murder persons outside of the United States, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

The men, who were taken into custody at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Saturday, intended to take separate flights to Egypt on their way to Somalia "to join designated foreign terrorist organization Al-Shabaab and wage violent jihad," according to federal prosecutors.

Alessa grew up in an upstairs apartment in North Bergen with his parents, who are from Jordan, according to the landlord, Hemant Shah. He attended ninth grade at Al-Huda School, a Muslim parochial school in nearby Paterson, New Jersey. The school refused to comment on Alessa's tenure there except to say that it was "shocked and saddened by these allegations."

The teenager transferred to the public North Bergen High School in late 2004, but within months, he was placed on administrative "home instruction" for exhibiting "radicalized behavior that was very threatening," according to spokesman Paul Swibinski.

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"Home instruction usually arises from disciplinary or security issues," Swibinski said. "In this case, school administrators were very concerned for the safety of students and staff. ... He received his home instruction at the North Bergen public library with a security guard present at all times."

Alessa transferred to KAS Prep, an alternative public school in nearby Hudson County, in September 2005, according to Swibinski. "He spent one semester there and exhibited the same behavioral problems."

Swibinski wouldn't comment on the exact nature of Alessa's behavior.

"He was well remembered," Swibinski said. "A lot of people remember exactly what kind of behavior he exhibited, and they're not surprised" by the charges against him.

After going back to North Bergen High in March 2006, Alessa was immediately returned to home instruction, Swibinski said. Almost a year later, school records say, he moved to Jordan.

The criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Newark alleges that in 2007, Alessa and Almonte traveled together to Jordan, where they intended to enter Iraq in order to commit violence against U.S. troops there.

The U.S. attorney's office in New Jersey said the investigation of the two men began with a tip to the FBI -- from someone who knew them -- in October 2006.

"Every time they access the Internet all they look for is all those terrorist videos. ... They keep saying that Americans are their enemies, that everybody other than Islamic followers are their enemies ... and they all must be killed," court documents said.

Alessa and Almonte made their first court appearance Monday, and Magistrate Judge Madeline Cox Arleo set a bail hearing for Thursday and a pretrial hearing for June 21.

CNN's Hussein Saddique and Allan Chernoff contributed to this story.