United States v. Suarez is the latest arrest in a remarkable series involving an individual in the United States identified as an ISIL supporter based on his social media posts, with the FBI then interacting with the person through a confidential source and culminating in a preventive arrest. Some of these cases are material support cases because the person is arrested while trying to make their way to Syria or Iraq. Others, like this one, involve a defendant allegedly prepared to carry out an attack in the United States itself. The criminal complaint is attached, and details from the DOJ press release appears below:
WASHINGTON – Harlem Suarez, also known as Almlak Benitez, 23, of Key West, Florida, was charged by a criminal complaint with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction against a person or property within the United States.
Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin, U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer of the Southern District of Florida and Special Agent in Charge George L. Piro of the FBI’s Miami Field Office made the announcement.
“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.”
“The top priority of the Department of Justice is to protect the security of the American people,” said U.S. Attorney Ferrer. “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 Special Agent in Charge 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.”
According to the 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.
The complaint further alleges that Suarez told the 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.
On July 27, 2015, Suarez took possession of an inert device and was arrested.
Assistant Attorney General Carlin and U.S. Attorney Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the FBI, members of 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. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Marc S. Anton and Karen E. Gilbert and Trial Attorneys Clement McGovern and Michael Dittoe of the Justice Department’s Counterterrorism Section.
A complaint is only an accusation and a defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.