Note: The above video is from previous coverage of Muhammed Momtaz Al-Azhari.
TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A Tampa man has pleaded guilty in federal court to trying to provide funding and firearms to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS.
Muhammed Momtaz Al-Azhari, 26, pleaded guilty to trying to provide material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida. USAO said he was convicted of advocating for another armed Islamist group in 2015, called Jaysh al-Islam, and “participating in the Syrian conflict, in Saudi Arabia.”
Al-Azhari spent three years in custody in Saudi Arabia before “being removed to the United States,” according to USAO.
When he got to the U.S., around December 2018, he was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for “potentially providing material support to ISIS.” Two years later, in 2020, he began to plan attacks in support of ISIS, according to USAO, and acquired multiple firearms and scouting locations in the Tampa Bay area for potential targets.
“Since at least May 2019, Al-Azhari consumed ISIS propaganda and spoke favorably about ISIS, to whom he eventually pledged his allegiance through a bay’ah (an Islamic oath of allegiance),” USAO said. “Furthermore, Al-Azhari spoke about avenging the United States’ imprisonment of Muslims, including ISIS fighters, and the United States’ military actions in the Middle East.”
He also “rehearsed parts of the plan” including statements to make during, or connected to, an attack in support of ISIS, according to USAO.
By April and May of 2020, USAO said Al-Azhari had multiple interactions with undercover FBI agents, and a confidential informant, where he tried to buy guns, “including a fully automatic rifle, but he was arrested on unrelated state charges while negotiating the purchase.”
Additionally, USAO said Al-Azhari tried to convert the informant to Islam and told him about his plans to provide materials to, and affiliation with, ISIS. USAO said Al-Azhari told the informant about providing material support and sending money to ISIS, as well as trying to recruit the informant to join him in his plan, as well as robberies. Al-Azhari also asked for help getting a Glock pistol and an unregistered silencer.
When he received the pistol and silencer in May 2020, agents arrested him. According to previous coverage, Al-Azhari had researched or scouted multiple Tampa area locations, including Honeymoon Island, as well as using internet searches to learn about Belleair Beach, and Clearwater Beach, among others.
After Al-Azhari was arrested, federal officials said he’d traveled to the site of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, reportedly due to an “infatuation” with the shooter. As previously reported, documents from the federal government show Al-Azhari had set his sights on areas such as Bayshore Boulevard, Belleair Beach, Clearwater Beach, and the FBI Tampa Field Office for potential targets.
Al-Azhari has not yet been sentenced. The charges he received upon arrest have a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison, according to the U.S. Dept. of Justice.