A 23-year-old Florida man faces terrorism charges after federal agents thwarted his alleged plot to detonate a backpack bomb at a public beach in Key West.
Harlem Suarez, also known as Almlak Benitez, was arrested Monday following a three-month investigation by the FBI. He first came to the attention of authorities after promoting ISIS on Facebook, according to a Department of Justice statement.
Suarez made his first court appearance Tuesday in Miami. His temporary attorney, Richard Della Fera, told The Associated Press that the defendant "may be 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 said.
Although Della Fera disputes the terrorism allegations, the case presented in the complaint is sobering.
A tipster alerted the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office after receiving a friend request from someone using the name "Almlak Benitez," who had posted extremist rhetoric on his page, according to the Miami New Times.
"We are [the] Islamic State. We are ISIS," he wrote in a Facebook post, according to a criminal complaint. "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."
Posting as Amlak Benitez, Suarez requested help making bombs. Suarez considered himself a member of ISIS, and said that the terrorist organization was coming to the United States to fight its enemies, according to the complaint, which is posted below.
The PBCSO alerted the FBI, who tracked Benitez's profile back to Suarez. The FBI made contact with Suarez through a confidential source and learned that he planned to bury a "timer bomb" in a backpack on a beach in Key West.
Suarez also told the source that he wanted to recruit and train more "brothers."
Suarez bought two AK-47 rifles on the Internet using his real name and home address, and arranged to have them shipped to a pawnshop in Key West in May, according to the complaint. Suarez had no disqualifying factors that would have prevented him from owning the rifles, but when he went to pick them up from the shop, he incorrectly filled out some paperwork and was not allowed to take them home.
Suarez met several times with the confidential source, before having a meeting with the source and an undercover FBI agent in early June. At that meeting, Suarez discussed wanting to detonate a bomb during Fourth of July festivities.
He expressed interest in inflicting mass casualties, planting a device at motels or possibly targeting police by placing a bomb under a cruiser. He told the source and the undercover agent that the scale of the attack was important because he wanted people "to know it's coming from Islamic State."
After that meeting, Suarez purchased components for a nail bomb, which he planned to detonate remotely by a cellphone on a beach.
Suarez took possession of an inert device on Monday and was arrested. He is charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction.