The FBI on Monday announced terrorism charges against 23-year-old Harlem Suarez of Key West, Florida, who portrayed himself online as a member of ISIS and allegedly wanted to carry out a terrorist attack on American soil.
Toward this end, law enforcement says Suarez thought he was purchasing an operational backpack bomb for deployment in Florida, but it was actually a dud sold to him by FBI operatives. He was also allegedly trying to get his hands on an AK-47 rifle.
According to NBC News, Suarez told informants of a plan to pack the bomb with nails, bury it on the beach, and then detonate it by cell phone when it was surrounded by tourists, similar to the atrocity ISIS perpetrated in Tunisia. “I can go to the beach at night time… put the thing in the sand… cover it up… so next day I just call and the thing is gonna, is gonna make… a real hard noise from nowhere,” he allegedly told the informant.
Suarez also unwittingly worked with FBI undercover operatives to scope out Fourth of July events in Florida for potential targets, according to his accusers. However, as late as July 19, he was allegedly buying boxes of nails to use as shrapnel and offering one of his undercover contacts $100 to build an explosive device for him, according to law enforcement. When he allegedly took delivery of the device on Monday, the cuffs came out. Suarez has been charged with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction against a person or property within the United States.
In April, Suarez allegedly posted: “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” – a reference the Isis goal of building a regional fundamentalist entity.
The FBI says he later added a request “from any brother. How to make a bomb send me a video or something, what do I need to make it.”
Among other things, the FBI says Suarez also sought to make an Isis recruitment video using a script he wrote himself. It eventually was made under FBI surveillance at a motel in Homestead, according to the complaint, with Suarez dressed in a black tactical vest, black shirt, mask and yellow-and-black scarf.
“American soil is the past, we will destroy America and divide it in two, we will rais(e) our black flag on top of your white house and any president on duty (cut head),” Suarez says in a script for the video.
The Guardian says Suarez actually had a clean enough record to purchase the AK-47 he wanted, but he didn’t get it because he filled out the paperwork incorrectly.
The FBI complaint says the specific incident that put Suarez on their radar screen was an April 2015 report from the sheriff’s office in Palm Beach County, Florida, which was in turn contacted by a Facebook user who received a sinister friend request from the “Almlak Benitez” account. This friend request “included extremist rhetoric,” leading the complainant to believe “Benitez” was trying to recruit people for ISIS. The Facebook account created under the Benitez alias reportedly included such statements as:
“We are the islamic state We are are isis Muslims”
“And soon we will the rest of warrior will come to here us@ from Canada and mexico and bring the caliphate here And start fighting who are agints Muslims”
“We are you behead cristians isis”
His Facebook “likes” included “Jihadist” and “Prayers for ISIS: Weapons of our Warfare.” Identifying Almlak Benitez as Harlem Suarez proved to be fairly easy, since he decorated the Facebook page with selfies. In the communication that brought him to the attention of law enforcement, he claimed Facebook had shut down several of his previous pages and allegedly gave his correspondent some (foolish) tips about how to successfully run a terrorist Facebook page under the noses of administrations and law enforcement.
Many of Suarez’s postings indicated that he considered himself a member of ISIS, but the FBI says there is currently no indication that he was ever in contact with actual members of that organization.
The New York Post quotes Suarez’s attorney, Richard Della Fera, describing him as a “troubled and confused young man, but he is certainly not a terrorist.”
“He comes from a very good, hard-working family that arrived here from Cuba in 2004 because they yearned for freedom. They raised their son to love this country,” Della Fera added. According to the FBI complaint, Harlem Suarez was living with his parents at the time of his arrest.