NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A Long Island man allegedly tried to join al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to carry out violent jihad overseas, authorities said Friday.
Marcos Alonso Zea, also known as Ali Zea, of Brentwood is charged with conspiracy to commit murder in a foreign country, attempting to provide material support to terrorists, obstruction of justice and more.
As WCBS 880’s Sophia Hall reported, Zea appeared in court for an initial appearance wearing glasses and a low ponytail.
The judge called Zea a threat and a flight risk and ordered him held without bail. His family later claimed that studying Arabic is not a crime.
Zea, 25, allegedly planned to travel to Yemen to wage jihad alongside al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which claimed responsibility for the attempted Christmas Day, 2009 bombing of a Detroit-bound plane.
Zea tried traveling to Yemen but was intercepted in the United Kingdom and returned to the U.S., authorities said.
WEB EXTRA: Read The Indictment (.pdf)
Despite being prevented from traveling to Yemen himself, Zea stayed in cahoots with co-conspirator Justin Kaliebe, authorities said.
Zea allegedly gave Kaliebe, 18, money to make the trip to Yemen. Kaliebe was also intercepted by the Joint Terrorism Task Force, authorities said.
“Two individuals who were born in the United States, raised in the United States, decided to turn against their country, allegedly, to join al Qaeda,” CBS News senior correspondent John Miller told WCBS 880 on Friday.
When Zea realized he was under investigation, he asked a friend to erase the hard drive on his home computer and destroy two other hard drives, authorities said. Those drives have since been seized and found to contain issues of Inspire magazine, a propaganda tool for al Qaeda, according to authorities.
“Despite being born and raised in the United States, Zea allegedly betrayed his country and attempted to travel to Yemen in order to join a terrorist organization and commit murder,” said U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch. “When that plan was thwarted, Zea continued to support terrorism by assisting his co-conspirator’s efforts to travel to Yemen to fight violent jihad. When the defendant sensed investigators from the JTTF closing in, he engaged in a desperate effort to cover his tracks by attempting to destroy evidence — a tactic that only confirmed his violent aims.”
Kaliebe has since pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support to terrorists and attempting to provide material support to AQAP.
“As al Qaeda has diminished as an organization, it has morphed into al Qaedaism, which lives in the dark corners of the Internet,” Miller said. “You’ve got videos from people like Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki, their chief recruiter. Both individuals who have been dead for some time that are still resonating with a group of young, disaffected Muslim youth and the United States government is still struggling with a counter narrative or a voice that can be the other side of that argument.”
Zea’s mother, Sandra Zea, denies the allegations. Holding her son’s diploma and graduation photo, she called the case a huge misunderstanding.
“He’s a little shy, but I know in my heart he is a good guy. I’m very upset,” she told CBS 2’s Jennifer McLogan. “He has a big heart.”
The family has been under surveillance.
“They’ve been following us everywhere. The only place they haven’t followed was to the bathroom,” said Zea’s father, Albaro Zea, adding when asked if his son traveled to London in an attempt to get to Yemen, “Yes, but it was vacation … with my daughter!”
Albaro Zea reiterated his belief that the whole thing is a misunderstanding.
“Yes, FBI and police trying to convict of something he has not done,” he said.
Kaliebe is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 6. He faces up to 30 years in prison.
“Aspirants with lethal intent who seek terror training abroad are of paramount concern,” said NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly. “Fortunately, like Kaliebe before him, Zea was stopped due to the close cooperation between the NYPD and FBI.”
In a statement, Long Island Rep. Peter King called the arrest “a vivid reminder of the threat we continue to face from domestic Islamic terrorists.”
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