Aventura - Sunny Isles

Plot to blow up Aventura synagogue ends with man’s arrest

A man was arrested, accused of plotting an attack against the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center
A man was arrested, accused of plotting an attack against the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center

A Hollywood man accused of trying to blow up an Aventura synagogue stood in Miami federal court on Monday and gave the judge two names — one real, the other an alias.

“My name is James Medina, also known as ‘James Muhammad,’ ” Medina told Magistrate Judge William Turnoff.

James G. Medina, 40, was arrested by federal agents on a charge of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction against the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center, 20400 NE 30th Ave., during services on Friday. The actual bomb — sold to him in Hallandale Beach by an FBI undercover operative just before the planned terror attack — was a dummy, authorities said.

On Monday, federal prosecutors Marc Anton and Karen Gilbert told the magistrate judge that Medina should be detained before trial, arguing that he is a danger to the community and a flight risk. If convicted, Medina, who is being held at the Federal Detention Center, faces up to life in prison.

The judge set Medina’s bond hearing for Thursday and his arraignment for May 16. He also appointed the Federal Public Defender’s Office to represent him.

Initially, an FBI confidential source met with Medina and two of his associates in late March and discussed the attack plan for the first time, according to an FBI affidavit. In early April, Medina talked about the timing of the assault with the source, who mistakenly suggested it could be carried out in a couple of weeks on the Jewish holiday, Yom Kippur — not realizing the upcoming holiday was Passover.

Medina’s response: “... that’ll be a good day to go and bomb them,” the affidavit said.

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One of Medina’s associates informed the FBI source that Medina was planning to martyr himself in a firearms attack on the Aventura synagogue, using AK-47 assault rifles — then, the affidavit said, the conversation turned to claiming responsibility for it. Medina said he liked the source’s idea of using the name of a notorious terrorist group — ISIS or al-Qaida-linked Shabaab — to assume responsibility.

“You can, you can do all that,” Medina told the source, who recorded their conversation. “Yeah, we can print up or something and make it look like it’s ISIS here in America. Just like that.”

Soon after, the plot shifted to setting off explosives remotely instead of attacking the synagogue in an assault-weapons raid, the affidavit said. Medina conducted surveillance with the FBI source.

Medina, who told the source he had converted to Islam four years ago, said the planned synagogue attack would inspire other Muslims. Medina would later express his “current hatred for the Jewish people,” the affidavit said.

An FBI undercover employee questioned Medina about his resolve: “You’re sure this is something you want to do?” Medina answered: “I feel like it’s my calling,” adding he was “comfortable” with killing innocent women and children.

Medina was portrayed in the FBI affidavit as being anti-Semitic and that might have been a critical factor in his motivation to carry out the alleged deadly plot, authorities said. Medina’s criminal complaint did not suggest he was directed by a foreign terrorist organzation such as ISIS to carry out the planned synagogue attack.

Before his arrest, Medina made three videos with his cellphone: In the first, he was recorded saying, “Aventura, watch your back. ISIS is in the house.” In the second, he said, “Today is gonna be a day where Muslims attack America. I’m going to set a bomb in Aventura.” And in the third, he said his good-byes to his family.

In response to Medina’s arrest, Rabbi Jonathan Berkun and Executive Director Elliott Karp released a statement on the synagogue’s Facebook page:

“The leadership of our congregation has been briefed by law enforcement and Jewish community security officials about this situation. They assured us that the synagogue and school were never at risk at any time during the investigation and arrest, and that there are no credible threats directed against us at the present time.

“Please be assured that our security protocols are well in place, which includes close coordination with local law enforcement agencies to insure the security of our facility and the safety of our members, children, staff and visitors.”

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, praised the FBI’s arrest of Medina.

“I am deeply grateful that the FBI arrested this individual before he was allegedly able to do harm to the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center and its congregants, so many of whom are my constituents, who were observing the end of Passover,” the congresswoman said in a statement.

“I will be in contact with federal and local authorities immediately and working with them to ensure our community’s places of worship — no matter what faith — are safe for all those who worship in them. As the month of May begins and we recognize Jewish American Heritage Month, this attempted attack is a harsh reminder that there are many in our community who are motivated by bigotry and violence.”

Medina has had several brushes with the law for minor offenses. But one case sticks out for its potential similarity to the alleged Aventura synagogue bombing plan. In 2012, Medina was accused of texting violent threats to a Coral Springs family and their church.

Medina, charged with aggravated stalking, told a Broward Circuit Court judge at the time that he was a glass installer and a lifelong resident of South Florida.

That August, a Coral Springs police officer responded to the family’s complaint about threatening texts and called Medina, who told the officer, “It’s going down,” before hanging up, according to an arrest affidavit.

A temporary order of protection was issued for the family. Days later, they had received approximately 50 additional texts, police said.

One text stated, “By next week, Ima bomb ya [curse word] . . . Bring him! I will buy a gun [off] the street and rampage [family member’s] church,” the affidavit said. “Murder she wrote.”

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