NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) – A sentencing hearing has begun in Newark federal court for the first of two New Jersey men who pleaded guilty to trying to join an armed Islamic group in Somalia in order to wage holy war against non-Muslims.

An attorney for Mohamed Mahmood Alessa of North Bergen is arguing his client was more a misguided teenager manipulated by an undercover New York Police Department officer than a hardened would-be terrorist.

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Alessa and Carlos Eduardo Almonte of Elmwood Park could face decades in prison.

The men pleaded guilty in March 2011 for conspiring to join al-Shabab, a terror group affiliated with al Qaeda.

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Alessa was born in the United States. His parents are Palestinian immigrants.

Almonte is a naturalized citizen, originally from the Dominican Republic.

They were arrested in June 2010 at John F. Kennedy International Airport where they were waiting to board separate flights to Egypt.

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