Florida Keys

Keys terror suspect convicted of trying to bomb beach and of backing ISIS

Suarez in a selfie from his Facebook, where he posted pro-ISIS images and phrases in 2015.
Suarez in a selfie from his Facebook, where he posted pro-ISIS images and phrases in 2015.

A Stock Island man deliberately tried to bomb a Keys beach in 2015 when he accepted a backpack bomb from men he believed were ISIS sympathizers, a federal jury in Key West decided on Tuesday.

The guilty verdict came after about 1 1/2 hours of deliberations after a seven-day trial.

Harlem Suarez, 25, testified Monday he was only playing along with the men he met online by posting calls to arms for ISIS. His attorney called the case entrapment.

Prosecutors, though, told jurors Suarez went to great lengths, taking actions that led toward setting off a backpack bomb at a Keys beach, including obtaining the bomb and making a video to recruit new ISIS members. No bomb was set off.

“He willingly took possession of a bomb,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Marc Anton said during the government’s rebuttal, which followed the defense’s closing argument Tuesday. “We’re not talking about some drugs. He took possession of a bomb.”

Sentencing is set for April 18 at the federal courthouse in Key West.

Defense attorney Richard Della Fera objected several times during Anton’s rebuttal, at one point drawing Judge Jose Martinez’s warning.

“Please limit your objections because you’re interrupting the flow of his argument,” Martinez said.

Suarez later found out the three men were government informants, who each testified against him last week.

Jurors heard hours of phone conversations that Suarez had no idea were being recorded when he called the men he believed could supply him with grenades, ammunition and the bomb. He also asked for a “rocket” before driving to Homestead to meet at a motel where he left with the inert bomb.

Text messages, Facebook posts and friend requests looking for ISIS sympathizers and would-be terrorists also were entered into evidence against Suarez, whose mother Vilma Quintana on Tuesday cried in the courthouse hallway during a break between closing arguments.

During the trial, Bernardo Suarez prayed the Rosary almost silently as prosecutors described his son as a potential mass killer.

Anton held the bomb in his hands during his argument.

“He never backed out,” Anton said. “It was the defendant continuously reengaging time and time again.

Born in Cuba, Suarez came to the Florida Keys when he was about 11. When he was arrested July 27, 2015, he lived with his parents at a Stock Island apartment and had worked as a cook, at Kmart, and at the airport.

Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen