MIAMI, Fla. (WFLA) – A Florida man who authorities say is a supporter of the terror group ISIL, is accused of attempting to make a backpack bomb that he allegedly planned to bury on a Key West beach.
Harlem Suarez, also known as Almlak Benitez, 23, of Key West, Florida, was charged on Monday with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction against a person or property within the United States.
“According to the complaint, Harlem Suarez, a self-professed ISIL adherent, knowingly attempted to use a weapon of mass destruction – a backpack bomb – in the United States,” said Assistant Attorney General Carlin.
“Stopping attacks on our homeland by those inspired or directed by designated foreign terrorist organizations is the highest priority of the National Security Division,” said Carlin.
According to a criminal complaint, 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.
Suarez allegedly told a confidential source that he wanted to make a “timer bomb.” Suarez purchased components for this device, which was to contain galvanized nails, be concealed in a backpack and be remotely detonated by a cellphone. Suarez intended to bury the device at a public beach in Key West and then detonate it, according to a criminal complaint. On July 27, 2015, Suarez took possession of an inert device and was arrested.
“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,” said Special Agent in Charge George L. Piro of the FBI’s Miami Field Office.
The FBI, the South Florida Joint Terrorism Task Force, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives , U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI), the Key West Police Department, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office worked together in the investigation.
Sarasota private investigator Bill Warner has worked on terrorism cases in the past. Suarez’ appearance makes Warner uneasy. “With the tattoos and short haircut, no beard, no mustache, clean cut and he goes to the beach,” Warner said. “Who would suspect he’s a terrorist?”
Warner said ISIL uses the Internet to spread its message and recruit members, and unlike terror groups before it who chose big, populous targets, the Islamic State is different. “These guys are going after the low-key, little soft targets,” Warner said. “They go to the mall and shoot people, go to the beach and shoot people. How do you stop this?”
Suarez attorney Richard Della Ferra doesn’t agree with the FBI’s characterization. “I’ve met this young man. I’ve talked to this young man,” he said. “I’ve gaged his demeanor. He is not a violent Jihadist. He is not a member of ISIS. He is a Cuban-American kid, who may be troubled. He may be confused, but he is not a terrorist.”