NORTH BERGEN, N.J. - Two terrorism suspects arrested at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport over the weekend had run afoul of school officials or law enforcement in recent years.
One was considered so disruptive that he was removed from school and taught privately with a security guard present, officials said.
Mohamed Mahmood Alessa was placed on "home instruction" three months after transferring from an Islamic high school in 2004, North Bergen High School spokesman Paul Swibinski said.
He declined to say why officials concluded Alessa was dangerous but cited a pattern of behavior.
"They were concerned for the safety of the other students and the staff," he said.
Authorities said Alessa, 20, and Carlos Eduardo Almonte, 24, tried to fly out of Kennedy airport Saturday in hopes of getting terrorism training in Somalia.
Alessa, born in the United States, is the son of Palestinian immigrants. Almonte is a naturalized citizen who was born in the Dominican Republic. Both are Muslim.
The two made their first federal court appearance Monday in Newark, and both requested court-appointed attorneys.
Almonte was arrested about a year ago and charged with aggravated assault for allegedly hitting someone on the back of the head with a glass picture frame in his hometown of Elmwood Park. The charge was dismissed in the fall, according to court records.
In 2004, he was arrested for possession of a knife on school property, assault, and underage drinking; court records reflect that he was fined $500 for the drinking charge, and the other charges were dismissed.
Alessa attended ninth grade at Al-Huda School, a private Islamic school in Paterson. Al-Huda issued a statement saying it was "both shocked and saddened by the allegations" against Alessa. "We strive to educate our children to be successful and to be good citizens," it said.
Alessa was violent, and his family had said it was seeking professional help for him, a former teacher at the school said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of privacy concerns.
Alessa transferred to North Bergen High in December 2004. By February 2005, he had been placed on "home instruction," Swibinski said.
Teachers were so fearful of Alessa's behavior, Swibinski said, that they refused to work with him at his home, instead teaching him at a public library with a school security guard present.
In September 2005, Alessa transferred to KAS Prep, an alternative high school in North Bergen, Swibinski said. He said Alessa stayed just one semester as school officials had "serious security concerns" with him.
Alessa returned to North Bergen High in March 2006 and was placed again on home instruction.
Swibinski said the North Bergen school system had contacted Homeland Security and local law enforcement officials about Alessa while he was a student. "In retrospect, that was clearly the right thing to do," he said.
Alarmed by the use of hard-to-track prepaid cell phones by some terror suspects, New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a Democrat, and Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican, have introduced legislation requiring buyers to produce identification.
The bill has been praised by law enforcement and has bipartisan support. Civil-liberties groups have privacy concerns.
Prepaid phones can be
a lifeline for people with limited incomes or poor credit, allowing them to purchase a device without committing to
a costly contract.
But since they can be purchased anonymously, they have long been a favored tool of drug dealers, gang members, and even white-collar criminals looking to cover their tracks.
In recent years, such phones also have been linked to suspected terror activity - including that by
Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani American accused of plotting to bomb Times Square.
Law enforcement officials said Shahzad used a prepaid cell phone to buy the vehicle that he allegedly rigged with a bomb. He also used the phone to communicate with coconspirators in Pakistan, officials said.
- Associated Press