KEY WEST – A South Florida man, charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction in Key West, appeared in court Tuesday.
Harlem Suarez, a/k/a “Almlak Benitez,” 23, of Stock Island, faced a judge with his mother. He is being held in federal detention and will have a hearing next Monday where his attorney will ask for a bond so he can get out of lock up.
A 15-page criminal complaint says Suarez wanted to carry out an attack in South Florida on July 4th to kill large numbers of people.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, he was posting extremist rhetoric on his Facebook page which promoted the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a foreign terrorist organization.
The complaint states, “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.”
Suarez came to the attention of the FBI after a person contacted the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office in April and said that someone named Almlak Benitez tried to friend him on Facebook and recruit him to join ISIS.
At that point, undercover agents made contact with Suarez.
The criminal complaint states Suarez told an undercover FBI informant that he wanted to make a “timer bomb.”
“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,” states the complaint.
The criminal complaint also says that Suarez made a recruitment video for ISIS at a Homestead hotel and pledged his allegiance to the group.
The feds say “…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 (investigators) that anyone is a good target.”
Investigators say Suarez said he followed ISIS and even discussed how he wanted to travel to Syria but never heard back from the group.
The FBI says Suarez wanted to recruit Muslims at a Miami mosque and made a recruitment video on behalf of ISIS at a Homestead motel. The feds say in part of the video Suarez said the following.
“American soil is the past, we will destroy America and divide it in two, we will rais (sic) our black flag on top of your white house and any president on duty…”
Suarez bought galvanized nails, which were to be hidden in a backpack and remotely detonated by cell phone, states the complaint. It also says Suarez planned to bury the bomb at a public beach in Key West and detonate it.
On Monday, July 27th, Suarez took possession of an inert explosive device and was arrested.
“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,” stated U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer.
Suarez is charged with knowingly attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction against a person or property within the United States.
Suarez lives with his parents and attended Key West High School but did not graduate. CBS4’s Jim DeFede spoke with neighbors who said that Suarez’s mother is very nice.
CBS4’s Carey Codd spoke to Suarez’s attorney, Richard Della Fera, who said Suarez works at a crepe restaurant. His mom is a maid and his father drivers a truck. The attorney said Suarez arrived in the US in 2004 from Cuba with his parents and has no prior arrests.
Della Fera said Suarez recently developed an interest in the Muslim religion and was simply curious about what type of response he would get from posting violent things on Facebook and the response he got was to get arrested and locked up.
“This is a confused and troubled young man and not a violent jihadist,” Della Fera said. “They came from the United States for freedom and Harlem’s parents raised him to love this country.”
David Weinstein is a former federal prosecutor. He said the criminal complaint details a strong case against Suarez.
“This is a prime example of what law enforcement should do,” Weinstein said. “He had every intention of carrying out a plot that would have resulted in injury and death to hundreds of people.”
If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison.
“There is no room for failure when it comes to investigating the potential use of a weapon of mass destruction,” said George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Miami. “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.”