Neighbors and colleagues of the Stock Island young man accused of allying himself with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant to attack Key West said the alleged terrorist detailed in court documents is not the same man they knew.
Federal agents arrested Harlem Suarez, 23, on Monday and on Tuesday he was charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, an offense that carries a potential sentence of up to life in prison.
The FBI picked up Suarez, also known as “Almlak Benitez,’’ after undercover informants sold him a fake backpack bomb. According to court documents, Suarez thought the bomb was real, and he intended to use it to kill scores of police and civilians on a public beach in Key West. He also allegedly discussed carrying out a terrorist-style attack in Marathon or Miami Beach on July Fourth, court records show.
At his family’s apartment, Easter-themed decorations lingered on the window of apartment 109, in the Meridian West complex on Shrimp Road on Stock Island.
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“He was just a normal kid; he had a motorcycle,’’ said a neighbor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Being a bad person, nobody knows him like that.’’
Mario Garcia lives several apartments from the Suarez residence. He said Suarez lived with his parents, who have been in the complex for 11 years.
"We're really surprised; we really are," Garcia said.
According to Garcia, "all kinds" of federal agents were at the apartment Sunday.
Another neighbor, who identified herself as Odalis, is friends with Suarez's mother. She said they are a “good family.’’
“The boy is quiet,’’ she said. “I don't know why.’’
A female co-worker who worked with Suarez when he was part of the cleaning staff at the Southernmost on the Beach Hotel in Key West between 2011 and 2012 said he was cool with her all the time.
However, according to the co-worker, Suarez's other co-workers bullied him, mentioning that he was a “little slow.’’
“He was on the defensive mode most of the time,’’ she said.