Harlem Suarez, ISIS Sympathizer Accused of Plot to Bomb Florida Keys, Believed in Smurfs, Lawyer Says

Harlem Suarez, accused of Florida Keys bomb plot, may have a "mental disease or defect."
Harlem Suarez, accused of Florida Keys bomb plot, may have a "mental disease or defect."

A psychiatric evaluation has been requested for Harlem Suarez, a man from the Florida Keys who was arrested in July after he allegedly said he wanted to bomb a beach in Key West or Marathon. He also allegedly talked about South Beach in Miami as a target.

His attorney, Richard Della Fera of Fort Lauderdale, wrote in a motion filed November 12 that he had conducted interviews with Suarez and his parents and reviewed his school records. Della Fera wrote that he has “reasonable cause to believe that the Defendant may presently be suffering from a mental disease or defect” and that Suarez “lacks the ability to consult with counsel with a reasonable degree of rational understanding.” Della Fera asked for a mental evaluation and hearing. A judge has not yet ruled on the motion.

Della Sera tells New Times that Suarez's "looks are kind of deceiving" — he is muscular and tattooed, and in Facebook photos, wears casual modern clothes like Batman t-shirts and cargo shorts — so he passed as a regular 20-something. He would attract girlfriends, the lawyer says, because "he's handsome and he's got a nice physique — and he opens his mouth and they think they're talking to an 11-year-old."

In June, friends and family told a Miami Herald reporter that Suarez had the mentality of a 12-year-old and believes in vampires, zombies, and Smurfs. ("And Bigfoot and mermaids," Della Sera adds.) They said he was raised Catholic, eats pork, and does not have the ability to carry out a bomb plot. He immigrated from Cuba in 2004 with his parents after they won a visa in a lottery. His parents said he struggled to speak English. He worked for a subsidiary of American Airlines at the Key West airport, doing tasks such as cleaning aircraft and loading baggage, but was fired in March for somehow deploying the inflatable slide on an aircraft.

In court documents, officials said that a tipster called the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office in April to report that s/he had gotten a friend request from a Facebook page under the name Almlak Benitez. Police tracked the page to Suarez’s home on Stock Island, just outside of Key West, and also found a page he’d created using his own name. His “likes” included “Jihadist” and “Extraordinary Prayer for ISIS.”

A confidential informant began chatting him up, then met him in person in Homestead, where they made a video to recruit jihadists. Court papers say that in the video, Suarez says “that Muslim brothers needed to ‘buy AKs, knives, and machetes’ and fight. After making the videos, Suarez discussed his plans for an attack on the United States homeland around the 4th of July holiday.”

The source and Suarez, who was then 23, planned to make a bomb. On July 19, Suarez rode his white scooter to Home Depot to buy galvanized nails for it. The source said he’d tell Suarez when the bomb was ready. On July 27, Suarez met the source, got in his car, was shown how to detonate the device, took it with him, and was apprehended when he stepped out of his car.

An affidavit says that the calls and meetings between Suarez and the informant were “consensually recorded.” The use of informants to trap suspected terrorists has been criticized by some – including Suarez’s family, who said authorities took advantage of a naive man. But FBI Special Agent in Charge George L. Piro said at the time of Suarez’s arrest,“There is no room for failure when it comes to investigating the potential use of a weapon of mass destruction.”

No one answered a phone call to a number registered to Suarez’s father. 

Suarez is charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction. He has pled not guilty.

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