ISIS in the Keys

Harlem Suarez created an alias on Facebook, Almlak Benitez, that alerted authorities about his pro-ISIS politics and, ultimately, his plans to bomb a Keys beach with a remote-controlled backpack bomb.

ISIS in the Keys

Harlem Suarez, 23, a self-professed ISIS member, had complex plans to remotely detonate a buried backpack bomb on a Keys beach and went so far as to purchase two boxes of galvanized nails from The Home Depot and a pre-paid cell phone which he delivered to an undercover informant, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. After the informant showed Suarez, a resident of Shrimp Road on Stock Island, how to “detonate” the inert device on Monday, Suarez was detained and arrested at an undisclosed location.

The affidavit, filed Tuesday, had little information about his activities — job, education, etc. — in Key West other than to say he lived on Shrimp Road with his father Bernardo Suarez. He is charged with knowingly attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction.

However, comments posted on social media reveal he worked at a department store in Key West. A colleague who answered the phone said he worked with Suarez briefly about five years ago. When told about the charges, he was full of disbelief.

“He wasn’t Muslim when he worked here. I’m Muslim and I never saw him at the mosque,” the man said. “He was a womanizer and party boy, always on Duval Street.” Another local recognized him as a security agent at the department store.

The colleague said he wasn’t sure how long Suarez had lived in Key West, and thought he might have been born in Cuba.

The Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office alerted the FBI to Suarez’s Facebook activities after a tip in mid-April. His likes included “Jihadist” and “Prayers for ISIS: Weapons for our Warfare.”

“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.”

In late March, according to the affidavit, Suarez created another Facebook account under the alias Almlak Benitez. Soon after, an FBI undercover agent initiated a conversation. Suarez told the informant he had two Glock guns and wanted a “long one,” presumably a rifle, and also needed a bulletproof vest. On the Benitez page he posted videos of beheadings, according to the report. He also solicited bomb-making advice: “I need some ernest! From any brother. How to make a bomb send me a video or something and what do I need to make it.” (Sic).

According to the affidavit, Suarez reached out to his informant in early May about making a “controller bomb.” On May 7, he visited an unnamed local pawn shop and informed the staff that two AK-47s he ordered on the internet would be delivered for pick up. Although he was legally allowed to have the weapons, the FBI reports the paperwork wasn’t properly completed and so the gun, or guns, were returned. A search of the Sheriff’s arrest page revealed no arrests for Suarez under his real or assumed name.

On May 30, Suarez posted on a friend’s Facebook page that he was at Bare Assets strip club in Key West. He posted, “I’m ready to make it rain while I’m blowing up.”

During May, he met with the informant three times, according to the FBI. On one occasion, he dictated a video script. “America soil is the past, we will destroy america and divide it in two. We will raise our black flag on top of your white house and any president on duty (cut head).”(Sic). On May 23, he dressed up in all black, concealed his face, and recorded the video. The locations for these meetings were not disclosed in the report provided to the press.

In June, Suarez was introduced to another undercover agent, posing as a member of ISIS. The agent reports he saw Suarez use his phone to search for 4th of July events in Marathon to potentially bomb. Suarez also allegedly talked about blowing up events on the patriotic holiday in South Beach or Miami Beach or both. He reportedly asked about the price of grenades and explosives that would fit in a backpack. From June 26 to July 18, Suarez and the informants had multiple text conversations when Suarez allegedly asked about how to build a bomb, according to the affadavit.

In July, according to the report, his activities became more intense.

On July 13, he allegedly told the informants, “I’m gonna do the backpack … that’s for sure I’m gonna do the backpack.” (Sic).

On July 19, Suarez allegedly rode his white scooter to the meeting with the informants, which suggests it happened in Key West. On the way, he stopped at The Home Depot to buy the nails and provided the informant with the backpack and pre-paid cellular and $100 to construct the bomb, according to the affidavit. “Specifically, Suarez discussed taking the bomb to a public beach, burying it in the sand and then detonating the device remotely with the cell phone.” The FBI said that at that point they told Suarez another party would contact him when the bomb was ready.

That meeting occurred on Monday, July 27. According to the report, he was shown how to use the device and arrested when he exited the informant’s vehicle.

According to Fox News, this is the 60th case of an ISIS supporter arrested in the U.S. in one year. Throughout the investigation, the FBI reported that Suarez continuously spoke of the need to recruit more jihadists.

Ron Desantis, a Republican representative for the Florida district just south of Jacksonville said, “ISIS is inspiring people. They paint a romantic picture of Jihad. The vulnerabilities are plain,” he said.

Local law enforcement including the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office and Key West Police Department have little to say about the arrest. The Sheriff has referred all media questions to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami and the FBI. According to the press release, multiple law enforcement agencies were involved: the FBI; the Joint Terrorism Task Force; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF); U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement; Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI); Key West Police Department; Monroe County Sheriff’s Office; and Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.  This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Marc S. Anton and Karen E. Gilbert and trial attorneys Clement McGovern and Michael Dittoe of the Counterterrorism Section of the U.S. Department of Justice.

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