The Department of Justice has announced charges against Muhammed Momtaz Al-Azhari of Tampa, FL, for allegedly trying to provide “material support” to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and scouting a Tampa area for a possible terrorist attack.
Al-Azhari, 23, was charged with attempting to provide material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization. He is being held in the Pinellas County Jail. Attorney information isn’t immediately available.
“We are grateful for the hard work and swift action by our law enforcement partners and concerned citizens during this investigation,” stated U.S. Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez in a press release. “Their coordination and cooperation in this matter allowed us to interrupt a serious threat, without harm to anyone.”
According to the criminal complaint, Al-Azhari planned and attempted to carry out an attack on U.S. soil on behalf of ISIS. He allegedly spent much of this spring trying to illegally acquire guns from an undercover FBI agent posing as an eBay seller. He called off the deal after local law enforcement arrested him for trying to carry a firearm into a Home Depot. He purportedly worked at a Tampa Home Depot, but the complaint doesn’t specify which one.
Much of the complaint details the FBI’s monitoring of Al-Azhari’s online and phone communications. In late April, he reportedly used the online shopping site Wish.com to order a bulletproof vest, a balaclava, and materials he intended to use to build a firearm silencer. He regularly read Islamic State news and participated in ISIS-focused chat rooms. He expressed admiration for Pulse nightclub shooter Omar Mateen and spoke of his desire to carry out a similar mass shooting, the complaint states. He also allegedly researched how to make bombs and disguises.
Additionally, Al-Azhari researched and scouted potential targets for an attack, including Honeymoon Island State Park. He rehearsed portions of his plan and the statements he would make during the attack, according to the complaint.
Records indicate that Al-Azhari, a U.S. citizen, has a criminal history that includes prior terrorism charges in Saudi Arabia. He spent three years in prison overseas after being convicted in 2015 of attempting to join a terrorist organization, the complaint said. He returned to the U.S. in late 2018.
Al-Azhari was arrested May 24 in a FBI sting operation involving an undercover informant who promised to provide him with weapons after he’d shared his desire to carry out a mass shooting on behalf of ISIS, according to the complaint.
“The primary mission of the FBI is to protect the American public from terrorist attack. 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 FBI Tampa’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) for working day and night to prevent the loss of life in the Tampa Bay community,” said Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Tampa Division Michael F. McPherson.
South Florida Criminal Defense Attorney