Harlem Suarez, a 25-year-old man Stock Island charged with plotting to bury a bomb wrapped in nails under the sand at a Key West beach, is nothing like the homegrown ISIS sympathizer federal prosecutors have described, his defense team told a jury Monday.
“There’s no action, it’s just talk,” Richard Della Fera, a Fort Lauderdale-based attorney who, with law partner Joshua Entin, is representing Suarez, said in opening trial statements Monday. “Harlem Suarez is not even a practicing Muslim and knows very little, if anything, about the Islamic religion.”
After the government’s lawyers depicted a young man eager to make it onto CNN with his bombing of beachgoers, Della Fera stood up to say his client was goaded, intimidated and directed into trying to buy explosives from a paid FBI informant.
Suarez, who was born in Cuba and moved to the Keys with his family in 2004 when he was 12, faces life in prison if the jury finds him guilty.
The trial opened at 9:30 a.m. Monday in U.S. District Court in Key West, where federal agents blocked off parking in front of the building on Simonton Street. Inside Judge Jose Martinez’s courtroom, royal-blue curtains hung ready to be drawn above the wooden ledge that separates the attorneys’ tables from the audience.
The curtains will be drawn during the testimony of three government witnesses — each an undercover informant working on behalf of federal law enforcement — to protect their identities from the public.
Suarez was targeted after a Facebook user reported to police he had received a disturbing message about recruiting ISIS sympathizers, prosecutors said.
While living with his parents at a Stock Island apartment in 2015, Suarez communicated via text and Facebook with the informants, agreeing to meet at a motel in Homestead, where he was recorded making statements about carrying out violence under the alias Black Angel of Death to support ISIS.
“Everyone against us must die,” Suarez said, according to prosecutors. “We are ISIS Muslims. One day I will cook Americans.”
Suarez also talked of plotting a Fourth of July bombing in Key West, Miami or Marathon, prosecutors said.
Della Fera said his client was working two jobs July 4, 2015, and then went out to meet friends. “On July 4, Harlem Suarez was drinking with his friends on Duval Street,” Della Fera said.
To be fair under the presumption of innocence, a magistrate judge ruled jurors can’t learn that Suarez legally bought an AK-47 rifle in 2015, having it mailed to a Key West pawn shop. But Suarez didn’t pick up the gun because he had failed to properly fill out the paperwork.