NYPD undercover investigator foils terrorist plot

Detective uses local knowledge, Arabic language skills to aid authorities.

June 8, 2010 18:16
2 minute read.
 Mohamed Mahmood Alessa, Chester Keller, of the Fe

Terror plot 311. (photo credit: Elizabeth Williams)


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The undercover investigator credited with helping stop two would-be terrorists had sought to begin his New York Police Department career like nearly everyone else — as a rookie patrolman. However when police officials learned he spoke Arabic and noticed his calm demeanor, they soon had other plans for him.

Authorities hailed the undercover officer's work following the arrest Saturday of terror suspects Mohamed Mahmood Alessa and Carlos Eduardo Almonte as they prepared to fly from New York to Egypt and then to Somalia. The New Jersey men appeared briefly in federal court in Newark on Monday on charges they conspired to kill, maim and kidnap persons outside the United States by joining the Somali terror group al-Shabab.

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Alessa, 20, and Almonte, 24, had no contact with Somali terrorists and had no specific terror plot, according to officials and court documents.
The undercover officer, while posing as a devout Muslim and circulating among other men with radical leanings in the New York City area, met the suspects in 2009 and won their trust, authorities said. He got close enough to them to secretly record their radical rants about fighting a holy war here and abroad.

Police officials have said the undercover officer is in his 20s, is of Egyptian descent and joined the department about five years ago. Capitalizing on the country's most ethnically diverse crop of recruits, officials screen applications and single out candidates "suited for deep undercover assignments," NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said.

The NYPD refuses to say how many of the undercover officers have been deployed or describe their tactics. But the 2006 trial of Shahawar Matin Siraj, convicted of plotting to blow up the Herald Square subway station in Manhattan, gave rare glimpses into how the department investigates Islamic extremists.

A 23-year-old undercover detective using his alias, Kamil Pasha, testified that he was drafted once the NYPD learned he was born in Bangladesh and could speak Arabic and Urdu. He said training lasted only a few weeks in 2002 before he got an apartment in Brooklyn and began attending a mosque there as a "walking camera" for his police handlers. "I was told to act like a civilian, hang out in the neighborhood and gather information," he testified.

The witness recounted how he met Siraj at an Islamic bookstore near the mosque. He claimed that the defendant advocated jihad against the United States for its support of Israel and argued that targeting both countries for suicide bombings was justified.

Siraj declared in December 2002 that, "The mission was not complete on 9/11 because it did not hit Wall Street," the witness said.

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