Harlem Suarez, the 23-year-old Key West man charged with trying to detonate a backpack bomb on a public beach in his hometown, pleaded not guilty to terrorism-related charges on Tuesday in Miami federal court.
Suarez, arrested in late July and indicted last week, remains in solitary confinement at the federal detention center near the courthouse. His defense attorney, Richard Della Fera, said he will seek a bond for his client after he receives the case evidence from the U.S. attorney’s office.
“He’s [feeling] a little better because he’s been able to correspond with his family through letters,” Della Fera told reporters outside the courthouse. “At this point, arrangements have not been made for his family to see him.”
Della Fera said he plans to seek a psychological evaluation of his client, who was arrested at his Cuban immigrant parents’ Stock Island apartment after FBI agents received a tip, spotted his allegedly pro-terrorist postings on Facebook and directed an undercover operation over the past four months.
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Suarez is charged with trying to use a weapon of mass destruction to show his support for the U.S.-designated terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also known as ISIS. He is also charged with making a video to recruit soldiers for the organization, which has gained global notoriety for its graphic videotaped beheadings of kidnapped journalists and aid workers in the Middle East..
Suarez — who allegedly discussed carrying out a “terrorist-style attack” in Marathon or Miami Beach on the Fourth of July, before setting his sights on Key West — is charged with offenses that routinely prevent a defendant from receiving a bond before trial. Prosecutors Marc Anton and Karen Gilbert are seeking pretrial detention based on two factors: danger to the community and risk of flight.
If convicted on the main weapons-of-mass-destruction charge, Suarez, aka “Almlak Benitez,” faces a potential sentence of up to life in prison, the U.S. attorney’s office said. The secondary charge of trying to provide “material support” through his Islamic State recruitment video carries up to 20 years in prison.
The FBI portrayed Suarez, a Key West High School dropout, in a 15-page criminal complaint as an Islamic State sympathizer intent on detonating a shrapnel-laden bomb at a public beach. In the sting operation, Suarez did receive an “inert” backpack bomb loaded with nails from an undercover FBI employee. He was then arrested.
But his parents and friends described him as a sometimes naive, delusional man who would not hurt an “ant.”