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Tampa terror plot suspect had sights set on targets with lots of people, feds say

Hillsborough County

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Newly-released booking video shows Muhammed Momtaz Al-Azhari, the suspect in a thwarted terror plot, being led into the Pinellas County jail where he is currently being held after his arrest over the weekend.

Earlier this year, federal officials say the 23-year-old drove an hour and a half to Orlando and visited the site of the Pulse Nightclub shooting, where 49 people were gunned down in 2016. Al-Azhari is apparently infatuated by the shooter in that case, according to federal paperwork obtained by News Channel 8.

He had plans, federal officials say, to cause a mass casualty situation somewhere in the Tampa Bay area. Federal documents show he set his sights on big targets like Bayshore Boulevard, Belleair Beach, Clearwater Beach and the FBI Tampa Field Office.

“He was under constant surveillance from the time he left the Saudi Arabia prison,” said Hassan Shibly, executive director of CAIR-Florida. “I don’t think we were under any real danger. And he certainly doesn’t represent us in any certain way.”

Shibly wants all people to come together and combat isolated incidents of planned terror.

“I look forward to us, as a Tampa Bay community, staying united and showing the world we will not let fear (and) hate divide us or turn us against each other,” he said Thursday.

8 On Your Side obtained a copy of cell phone video shot by a neighbor that shows the moment agents were at the man’s Sillers Avenue home.

According to paperwork, Al-Azhari 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, U.S. Department of Justice officials say.

The criminal complaint said Al-Azhari attempted to purchase multiple guns over the course of the investigation and acquired a Glock pistol and a silencer.

FBI agents arrested Al-Azhari on Sunday after he took possession of weapons to be used in an attack.

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