And they do it despite the fact that interest in jihad and violence runs through the kid’s life. More claims of victim status and evasion of responsibility: “Parents of accused NJ terrorist blame FBI for son’s interest in jihad,” by Matthew Van Dusen and Peter J. Sampson for The Record, June 25 (thanks to Twostellas):
At age 6, Mohamed Alessa declared to his parents that he would someday become the first Muslim president of the United States — “President Mohamed,” he would be called.
Today, a 20-year-old Alessa sits in a cell at a New York detention center, charged with conspiring with his best friend, Carlos Almonte, 24, of Elmwood Park, to wage violent jihad on Americans overseas.
But even at a young age, his parents said their son suffered from the uncontrollable rages that would plague him throughout his teens and fuel run-ins with school officials and law enforcement.
In their first interview together, Mahmood and Nadia Alessa, of North Bergen, detailed their son’s psychological problems, his troubled teen years and their belief that the FBI pushed two innocent young men into a terrorist mold.
“It’s like they’re against these two kids, they want them to be terrorists,” Nadia Alessa said of federal authorities. “These kids [don’t] know what’s going on, they don’t know anything.”
They also said many of the government’s claims against their son are dead wrong and that authorities have mistaken his anger problems and grandiosity for something much more serious.
They said a 2007 trip to Jordan, which the FBI believes was a failed attempt to join the insurgency in Iraq, was a chance for Mohamed Alessa to study abroad. The Alessas also said he was traveling to Egypt on June 5 to meet a 19-year-old Swedish Muslim he planned to marry, not as a way station to jihad in Somalia, as the government alleges.
The Alessas also said they did not provide the FBI with the October 2006 tip that started the government’s investigation.
They said their son, an animal lover who once kept 13 cats, is a misguided young man who had been monitored by the FBI since age 16 and was encouraged by an undercover agent to act like a terrorist.
This claim, which others in North Jersey’s Muslim community have repeated, irks FBI officials.
Michael Ward, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Newark division, said agents often consult the Muslim community and ask for help in turning young lives around.
But Ward said that when troubled teens get into their 20s and go from “aspirational to operational,” there is only so much that outreach can accomplish. He stressed that he was not specifically addressing the investigation into Almonte and Alessa.
“They evolved, they went deeper into the radicalization process, and I don’t believe that, here at these last stages, there’s anything we could’ve done,” Ward said of the two young men.
Exodus from Kuwait
Nadia Alessa, a Palestinian from the West Bank, gave birth to her only child in July 1989 while visiting friends in North Bergen.
She and her husband, an ethnic Palestinian from Jordan, then returned to Kuwait, where he owned a billboard advertising business.
After Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in August 1990, the family was evacuated by American officials to the United States because Mohamed was a citizen.
“The United States saved my life,” Mahmood Alessa said.
As a child, their son displayed “anger management” problems that a battery of psychologists and psychiatrists tried to treat. Still, he bounced in and out of almost a dozen different Catholic, Muslim, local and boarding schools, they said.
In February 2005, North Bergen High School officials placed him on home instruction because he presented safety concerns for other students and staff, district spokesman Paul Swibinski said.
In August 2005, his mother said he was arrested in Jersey City for defacing a Coptic Christian church with the words “allahu akbar,” which means “God is great” in Arabic. He was released without charges, she said.
He moved to the alternative school KAS Prep in September 2005 and became even more belligerent. He allegedly threatened to blow up the school, a claim Nadia Alessa said was a lie told by another student. Mahmood Alessa said his son came home and cried after fellow student told him, “you look like [al-Qaida leader Osama] bin Laden.”
Officials at KAS Prep reported Mohamed Alessa’s threats to the New Jersey Department of Homeland Security.
In January 2006, police officers — the Alessas weren’t clear on what agency — came to the modest second-floor apartment, arrested their son and put him in the Hudson County Juvenile Detention Center in Secaucus for one month for his threats.
A judge dismissed him as “a stupid kid,” Nadia Alessa said, and released him.
‘It’s almost like a fad’
Mohamed Alessa claimed he had exclusively read the Quran while in juvenile detention and emerged a self-professed pious Muslim.
He asked his mother, who does not wear traditional garb or head coverings, why she didn’t cover herself.
“My son is not that religious,” she said. “He like to talk, he like to show. What I think, both of them, they’re having a problem. They want to be famous.”
His brand of piety seemed to preclude regular attendance at mosque, and he resisted efforts by local Muslim elders to help him.
Walid Bejdough, a former spokesman for the Islamic Center of Passaic County, said Mahmood Alessa asked him several years ago to counsel his son to come to mosque and stay out of trouble.
Bejdough arranged to meet the young man, but Mohamed Alessa never showed up.
Mohammad Abbasi, a spokesman for the North Hudson Islamic Educational Center, said he met Mohamed Alessa for the first time at a Teaneck mosque just before he was arrested.
He said he didn’t come across as pious or observant but noted, “It’s almost like a fad for kids … his age.”
Abbasi also questioned whether the FBI should have followed the young pair. Agents had come to him before about problem kids, he asked, why not with these two? […]
Almonte and Mohammed Alessa were arrested on June 5 at John F. Kennedy International Airport and charged with conspiring to kill, maim and kidnap outside the United States. Mahmood Alessa said he can’t sleep and has lost weight because he has been unable to contact his son since the arrest.
He and his wife have received only one communication from jail, a handwritten letter from Almonte, whom they regard as a second son. In it, he writes, “All I want is for me and Mohamed to have a decent life. I know we don’t deserve this.”