TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – The United States Department of Justice announced the filing of a criminal complaint against a Tampa man accused of trying to provide material support or resources to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).
According to the complaint, Muhammed Momtaz Al-Azhari, 23, was an ISIS supporter who planned and attempted to carry out an attack on behalf of the organization.
Al-Azhari has a criminal history that includes prior terrorism charges in Saudi Arabia, the DOJ says.
The complaint said Al-Azhari attempted to purchase multiple guns over the course of the investigation and acquired a Glock pistol and a silencer.
Al-Azhari also allegedly expressed admiration for Pulse nightclub shooter Omar Mateen and spoke of his desire to carry out a similar mass shooting.
Al-Azhari allegedly researched and scouted potential targets in the Tampa area, including Honeymoon Island.
He reportedly rehearsed portions of an attack and the statements he would make during and in connection with such an attack.
8 On Your Side went to Honeymoon Island and spoke with beachgoers who were shocked to hear the news.
“It’s just crazy. Because you go to the beach and you come and you don’t think someone would come and do something like that,” Beachgoer Marrisa Burnett said.
Other documents suggest he conducted internet searches on Belleair Beach and Clearwater Beach as well as busy beaches in general.
FBI agents arrested Al-Azhari on Sunday after he took possession of weapons to be used in an attack.
If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison.
The attorney for Al-Azhari provided a statement to News Channel 8:
“The government’s charges in this case unfairly attempt to portray this United States citizen as a terrorist. The allegations misunderstand both the law and the evidence. I’m thankful that in this country everyone enjoys a presumption of innocence, and I look forward to Mr. Al-Azhari’s day in court before a jury of his peers.”Samuel Landes- Attorney for Al-Azhari
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