NEWARK, N.J. — Wails of grief and anger filled a Newark courtroom Monday after a judge sentenced two would-be Islamic militants from New Jersey to lengthy prison terms for conspiring to commit murder overseas on behalf of a terrorist group.
At the conclusion of a five-hour hearing, U.S. District Judge Dickinson R. Debevoise imposed a 22-year prison term on Mohamed Alessa, 23, of North Bergen. He sentenced Alessa’s best friend and co-defendant, Carlos Almonte, 27, of Elmwood Park, to a 20-year term.
The two men, who have already spent nearly three years behind bars, had faced from 15 to 30 years under the terms of plea agreements but were hoping to persuade the judge to be more lenient.
The courtroom was silent as the judge handed down the sentences. Several members of Alessa’s family then began wailing and shouting in Arabic as the two heavily shackled defendants were led away by U.S. marshals.
Outside the courtroom, marshals escorted the family and other supporters out of the building as lawyers for the two men expressed their disappointment.
Alessa’s attorney, Stanley L. Cohen of New York City, called the sentences “excessive.”
Almonte’s lawyer, James C. Patton of Livingston, said the judge carefully considered the material submitted by the defense, “but we were hoping for better.”
The two were arrested by the FBI at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport in June 2010 as they prepared to board separate flights to Egypt on the first leg of a voyage to Somalia where they planned to join al-Shabab, a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization.
Faced with overwhelming evidence amassed by an undercover officer, they pleaded guilty in March 2011 to conspiring to join a terrorist group and murder individuals outside the United States.
“Alessa and Almonte wanted to join terrorists who shared their violent, extremist ideology so they could murder those who did not,” U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman said in a statement.
“Their decades-long sentences are both a just punishment for their admitted actions and a warning to others who would be tempted down this dead-end path,” Fishman said.