TAMPA, FL.- In a story that will likely come as not a shock to anyone, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that a 23-year-old Tampa man was planning to carry out a terrorist attack on behalf of the Islamic state of Iraq.
The DOJ announced on Wednesday the criminal complaint against Muhammed Momtaz Al-Azhari.
The complaint charged Al-Azhari with “attempting to provide material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization,” in this case ISIS, according to The Tampa Patch.
The complaint alleged that Al-Azhari supported ISIS and he planned and attempted to carry out an attack in the Tampa Bay area. He had researched potential targets throughout the Tampa area, including Honeymoon Island in Dunedin, the Tampa FBI field office and Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa.
The DOJ said that he had rehearsed portions of the attack, and even practiced making statements on the video camera on his iPhone, which he planned to release after the attack.
“Know America. Today is your emergency. Today we kill from you guys like you killed from us,” was among several statements he made, the affidavit stated. “This is revenge for Muslims.”
In yet another video, Al-Azhari, while wearing a face mask was pretending to point a gun at someone on the floor, while saying:
“Hey you, get on the floor. Get on the floor now. Don’t you move, don’t you move, I’m telling you, I will kill you.”
A third video showed Al-Azhari displaying guns he had purchased, singing:
“We have a local silencer and bullets are a 9mm. To raise to the highest levels is a must for every crusader.
This is 9mm, thank God. Will be used against God’s enemies. And this 22. Of course, 22 of a hundredth of inches, not millimeter. I ask God the almighty to enable me and give me a duty that God will be happy with, and God is able to do that.”
According to News Channel 8 in Tampa, Al-Azhari had a criminal history that includes prior terrorism charges in Saudi Arabia, the DOJ said.
During the course of the investigation, the DOJ noted, the suspect attempted to purchase multiple guns over the course of the investigation, while also trying to acquire a Glock pistol and a silencer.
It was after he purchased the guns that he was taken into custody. He also had in his possession an AK-47 style rifle.
The FBI was also notified by the U.S. Postal Service that Al-Azhari had purchased weapons parts on eBay and had them mailed to his home in Tampa.
The DOJ said that records from eBay showed a purchase on April 20 where he bought a PF940v2 polymer pistol frame and jig kit from an eBay user in Texas. He also tried to purchase a Glock 19 from an agent who was posing as an eBay seller.
Prior to the end of the conversation, Al—Azhari asked the undercover agent, “Hey bro, you know, do you also have like a baby AK or something like that?”
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The suspect also showed purchases of military tactical items from an online shopping site, Wish, which included a camera drone, a bullet-proof military tactical vest, a military high-powered laser pointer and a fuel trap solvent filter, which is designed to be attached to the muzzle of a firearm barrel.
Al-Azhari also is reported to have expressed appreciation for the shooter in the Pulse nightclub incident, Omar Mateen, and expressed a desire to carry out a similar type of incident.
Al-Azhari, during a conversation with a confidential informant, was quoted as saying:
“That’s how I want to die, to be honest. I don’t want to take four or five, no. I want to take at least 50, you know, like brother Omar Mateen in Orlando did. He took 49 with him.”
Al-Azhari worked at a Home Depot, where FBI agents also interviewed some of his coworkers. One supervisor told the FBI that Al-Azhari “often spoke of Islam at work and conveyed views that were passionate and aggressive. In reference to Sept. 11 attacks, Al-Azhari related that he believed that Americans got what they deserved that day.”
Yet another co-worker said the suspect kept a 9mm handgun in the center console of his vehicle.
The FBI observed a court order to search Al-Azhari’s phone, where they discovered evidence that the suspect had visited a messaging application chat room, which posted articles and videos on how to manufacture bombs, along with other materials used in bomb manufacturing, such as phosphate hypochlorite sodium chlorine, hypochlorite sodium chlorox, trinitrotoluene and other explosive materials.
Al-Azhari also downloaded PDF’s on “How to make a bomb at home,” “Mujahid Guide in Forensic Research” and “4 Easy Ways to Make a Suicide Belt.” He also had posted a link to an article on how to use IED’s in warfare, types of IED’s and booby trapping.
Al-Azhari initially came under FBI surveillance in May 2019 when he began to make statements about his support for ISIS, as well as wanting to take revenge on the US for the imprisonment of Muslims, including those who fought for ISIS.
In the Saudi Arabia incident, he was convicted in 2015 for terror-related crimes, which included attempting to join a terrorist group. He was, according to the FBI planning to travel to Syria for the purposes of participating in a jihad and join a terrorist group fighting the Syrian government. He was imprisoned for possession of extremist propaganda, holding extremist views and attempting to join a terrorist organization, in this case Jaysh al Case.
Al-Azhari was working in conjunction with two other people in that case, including his father. He served three years in prison in Saudi Arabia, and then “was removed” to the U.S. in December 2018, the FBI said. He initially lived in California and then moved to Tampa Bay in June 2019. It is not known how or why he was “removed” to the U.S.
Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers said:
“We are grateful for the quick work of our partners at the FBI to apprehend Al-Azhari before he could carry out his attack.”
“This case demonstrates the department’s commitment to stand vigilante against the threat of terrorism and violent extremism in all its forms.”
“Their coordination and cooperation in this matter allowed us to interrupt a serious threat, without harm to anyone,” said Maria Chapa Lopez, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida.
“From Mr. Al-Azhari’s attempt to acquire firearms through unlawful channels to his desire to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, it was clear Mr. Al-Azhari’s intention was to carry out an act of violence,” said Assistant Director Jill Sanborn of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division. “The FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task forces across the country will continue to use all of their legal authorities to prevent a potential act of terrorism in the United States, and elsewhere.”
The investigation was a multi-agency effort, with Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Tampa Division Michael F. McPherson leading the investigation.
They were assisted in the effort by Homeland Security, the Tampa Police Department, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, the Pasco Sheriff’s Office, the St. Petersburg Police Department, the Clearwater Police Department, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
“The primary mission of the FBI is to protect the American public from a terrorist attack,” McPherson said. “Today’s announcement of the arrest of Muhammed Momtaz Al-Azahari is proof we are committed to that pledge.
“I commend the 18 federal, state and local member agencies who comprise the FBI Tampa’s Joint Terrorism Task Force for working day and night to prevent the loss of life in the Tampa Bay community. We were also fortunate to gain the cooperation of multiple citizens who willingly and bravely provided their assistance during this investigation.
“This strong bond between law enforcement and the public allowed us to disrupt this threat.”
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