DOJ: Harlem Suarez, Inspired by ISIS, Planned to Bomb Key West and Miami

A man named Harlem Suarez, also reportedly known as Almlak Benitez, sympathized with the Islamic State, wanted to bomb a Key West Beach, and also talked about South Beach as a target, according to a criminal complaint unsealed today in federal court in Miami. Department of Justice officials said he was charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction.

According to a DOJ news release, in April 2015, Suarez "came to the attention of the FBI due to Facebook posts that contained extremist rhetoric and promoted the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a designated foreign terrorist organization." 

The criminal complaint specifies that the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office received a complaint from someone who had received a Facebook friend request from a page belonging to "Almlak Benitez." The page said, "We are the islamic state We are isis Muslims, And soon we will the rest of warrior will come to here [email protected] from Canada and mexico and bring the caliphate here And start
fighting who are agints Muslims," and "We are you behad cristians isis." [sic] 

The FBI tracked the page owner to Shrimp Road on Stock Island, where Suarez lived with his parents. They also looked at the page under his own name. 

From the complaint: 

Review of the publicly~accessible portion of the Harlem Suarez Facebook page revealed SUAREZ claimed to be from Key West, Florida, and listed his ''likes" as: "Jihadist," ~"Extraordinary Prayer for ISIS," and "Prayers for ISIS: Weapons of our Warfare." Review of this account further revealed SUAREZ had posted "selfie" photographs to his account as recently as May 2015. Agents compared these "selfies" to SUAREZ' Florida driver's license photograph and determined the individual in the "selfies" was SUAREZ. 

A confidential informant from West Palm Beach began chatting him up on Facebook, and Suarez said he had two Glocks and wanted a "long one." Suarez allegedly posted things like "Be a warrior, learn how to cut your enemies head and then burn down the body learn
how to be the new future of the world Caliphate" and "I need some emest! from any brother. How to make a bomb send me a video
or something, and what do I need to make it." 

In May, Suarez allegedly began texting with the source and wrote, "Yes, I want to learn how to make a controller bomb" and added, "Try to find out what we need to make it with a controller remote that's the type of bomb we need to make and recruit." Suarez also texted to the Source, "10x12 titanium steel bulletproof hard armored rifle plate evel-Ak-47." Suarez added, "I got two bulletproof, just need the plate." They also spoke by phone. 

Also in May, a pawn shop notified the FBI that Suarez had come in saying he'd ordered two AK-47s online that would be delivered to the store. Suarez did not have any flags preventing him from buying guns, but because of a paperwork error, he never took possession of them. 

On May 15, the source met Suarez in person and had what is described in court papers as "consensually recorded meetings." 

According to the complaint: 

 SUAREZ told the Source that he wanted to make an ISIL recruitment video. SUAREZ then dictated a script for the video to the Source, and the Source wrote down what Suarez was saying. The following is part of what the Source wrote down:

 I call to other brothers worldwide to creat Caliphate in the middle East. Destroy our enemies against us. Let live only who are our brothers and sisters. Send our mujahideen to a different soil with tanks, missiles, gemades, and other tactical needs. American soil is the past, we will destroy america and divide it in two, we will rais our black flag on top of your white house and any president on duty (cut head). There will be no one against us, the islamic state. No matter how many brothers of us they kill ... or leaders, we always will have leaders for us to follow, they will never destroy the islamic state and Abu Bakr al Baghdady. we will keep going forward, how we are now on U.S. Soil, FLORIDA, NEWYORK, TEXAS, OHIO, CALIFORNIA, MICHIGAN, CANADA THERE is alot of us there, too. We are everywhere and we are not going to stop, until we create the caliphate and seek our enemy and kill them, where we find them.

On May 23, they met in Homestead to make a recruitment video. 

 In the motel room, SUAREZ put on a black tactical vest, black shirt, black face mask, and a yellow and black scarf. The Source then made video recordings of SUAREZ reading the messages he had dictated above. SUAREZ also stated that Muslim
brothers needed to "buy AK's, 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. 

On June 23, Suarez: 
met with the Source and an FBI undercover employee (UCE 1). This meeting was consensually~recorded. UCE 1 was introduced to SUAREZ through the Source as a member-0f ISIL who could supply explosive devices. During this meeting, the Source observed SUAREZ utilize his cellular telephone to send/receive text messages and conduct Internet searches. These searches included looking for 4th of July events in Marathon, Florida, which would be attended by large groups of people. At the same meeting, SUAREZ discussed wanting to conduct a terrorist-style attack on or about July 4th, possibly in Marathon, Florida, or on South Beach in Miami Beach, Florida, or both. Initially, SUAREZ described multiple attack plots, each causing mass casualties, and claimed that ISIL had advised that viable targets are "cartoons, police, and military." When questioned on specifics about these potential targets, SUAREZ advised the Source and UCE 1 that anyone is a good target. SUAREZ discussed purchasing a vehicle and creating a car bomb, targeting police officers by placing bombs underneath police vehicles and possibly targeting hotels, saying "they would know that you know, it's coming from Islamic State." SUAREZ also stated, "One day I will cook American" ... "In cages" ... "Flaming". 

On July 6 in a " consensually-recorded telephone conversation," the source told Suarez it would cost $150 for a grenade or $100 for a backpack bomb. Then Suarez asked the undercover FBI agent "if he (UCE 1) could teach SUAREZ how to make a timer bomb with a
pressure cooker or with any container." 

On July 11, he and the source "discussed the possibility of going to a mosque in Miami and standing up in front of the group and saying, "listen all my brothers ... I'm new in the religion but also I want to give ... pass this ... message to everyone of us ... you know they've been
killing ... that we have to stand up." (Errors in original.) Suarez further commented, "all Muslim we have to stand up and be with our, our brothers like you know the Islamic State... "

In a phone conversation, he insisted he was true to the Islamic State and discussed stocking up on grenades and ammo. 

Then on July 16, "Suarez and the Source engaged in a consensually recorded telephone call during which they discussed the timer bomb. SUAREZ told the Source, "we can make it with ... a phone ... because ... if one day ... I get a day off ... I can go to the beach at
night time ... put the thing in the sand ... cover it up ... so the next day I just call and the thing is ll gonna, is gonna make ... a real hard noise from nowhere, and like people are gonna be like what, where this shit came from." 

On July 19, Suarez rode his white scooter to Home Depot to buy galvanized nails, then meet the source. He also brought a prepaid cellular telephone and a backpack. "Also during the meeting, it was discussed where the bomb would be placed. Specifically,
SUAREZ discussed taking the bomb to a public beach, burying it in the sand, and then detonating the device remotely with the cell phone. SUAREZ also discussed putting bombs under police cars, in front of police officers' homes, and possibly purchasing a vehicle and
building a car bomb." 

Last week, the source said he'd tell Suarez when the bomb was ready. Yesterday, 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 the car. 

The use of informants to trap suspected terrorists has been criticized (especially by former New Times writer and current head of the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting Trevor Aaronson, who wrote a book about it.

But U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer of the Southern District of Florida said in a statement, “The top priority of the Department of Justice is to protect the security of the American people. The U.S. Attorney’s Office, in collaboration with the FBI, works tirelessly to advance this mission by continuing to thwart home-grown acts of terrorism.”

“There is no room for failure when it comes to investigating the potential use of a weapon of mass destruction,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge George L. Piro. “The FBI and our local, state and federal partners work around the clock to prevent such catastrophic weapons from being used against our citizens. Even so, we ask the public to be vigilant and report suspicious activity to law enforcement.”

No one answered a call to a phone number said to be Suarez's. No one answered a call to a number listed for his parents.