Feds go after an alleged bomber as terror trial opens Monday

The Florida Keys trial of a local man on terrorism charges is set to open Monday at U.S. District Court in Key West.
The Florida Keys trial of a local man on terrorism charges is set to open Monday at U.S. District Court in Key West. Keynoter

A Florida Keys jury won’t learn Harlem Suarez legally bought an AK-47 rifle during the same time period the government says the Stock Island man plotted to bomb a local beach.

Jurors also cannot view certain photos from his Facebook page that his lawyers would describe in court documents only as “highly graphic in nature,” and prosecutors must take care not to argue Suarez is a terrorist or a member of a terrorist organization.

Those were decisions rendered by a federal magistrate judge last week as the eve of trial approaches for Suarez, 25, who is charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.

“I’m gonna do the backpack,” Suarez was recorded telling an undercover FBI agent, who said it’s a reference to a bomb. “That’s for sure, I’m gonna do the backpack.”

Suarez, who lived with his parents, could receive life in prison if convicted as charged.

Jury selection began Friday before Judge Jose Martinez at U.S. District Court, 301 Simonton St., in Key West, where prosecutors and the defense team took turns questioning prospective jurors. The opening day of trial is set for Monday.

Since his arrest July 27, 2015, Suarez has remained at a Miami federal detention center. Twice, he has shown such obstinate resistance to his attorneys that they have asked the court to let them withdraw as counsel. Both times, Magistrate Judge Lurana Snow has denied the request.

At one point last May, Suarez wrote a handwritten letter to Judge Martinez asking him to drop the charges because he is a law-abiding “responsible gun owner”+ coerced into agreeing to accept an explosive from undercover agents. Martinez reminded all that only attorneys could file such motions.

Federal prosecutors say he identifies himself as a member of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Suarez told undercover FBI informants July 3, 2015, he wanted to attack police by either blowing up a car bomb or by placing bombs under police cruisers, federal prosecutors said.

An informant posing as a member of Islamic State told Suarez at a meeting in a Homestead hotel room he would get back to him with prices for grenades and other material needed to make a backpack bomb. FBI agents arrested Suarez after he met with an informant who showed him how to detonate explosives.

Suarez came to the attention of law enforcement in April 2015, when an unidentified person reported to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office a Facebook friend request from someone that included extremist rhetoric about recruiting for ISIL.

That friend request was from an account user named Almlak Benitez, who federal agents determined was Suarez, then a 23-year-old living with his parents in an apartment on Shrimp Road on Stock Island.

“Be a warrior, learn how to cut your enemies head [sic] and then burn down the body learn how to be the new future of the world Caliphate,” Suarez posted on Facebook around April 7, 2015, prosecutors said.

Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen