Defense attorneys for Harlem Suarez, the 23-year Key West man arrested on charges of trying to use a backpack bomb in a planned explosion on a public beach, declared Monday that he is not a “terrorist.”
His lawyers and prosecutors agreed to continue his bond hearing until next Tuesday while Suarez remains in custody so the defense can gather evidence about the central charge: 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 has no affiliation with ISIS or any terrorist organization,” defense attorney Richard Della Fera told news reporters outside the Miami federal courthouse. “He’s never been arrested, he’s never been incarcerated and he’s very distraught.
“What I’ve observed is a young man who is very immature and has a low intellect, and I think that plays into what happened to him in very large measure,” said Della Fera, flanked by attorney Josh Entin.
The lawyers said they plan to seek a psychological evaluation of their client, who was arrested a week ago after FBI agents received a tip, spotted his allegedly pro-terrorist postings on Facebook and directed an undercover operation over the past four months.
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 an offense that routinely prevents a defendant from receiving a bond before trial. Prosecutor Marc Anton is seeking pretrial detention based on two factors: danger to the community and risk of flight.
Suarez’s arraignment is still pending, so he hasn’t entered a formal plea. If convicted, Suarez, aka “Almlak Benitez,” faces a potential sentence of up to life in prison, the U.S. attorney’s office said.
Suarez, a Key West High School dropout who lived with his Cuban immigrant parents in an apartment on Stock Island, had worked for an American Airlines regional affiliate at the local airport until last spring, He also had worked in a Key West restaurant until his arrest..
The FBI portrayed Suarez in a 15-page criminal complaint and affidavit as as an Islamic State sympathizer, but who did not appear to make actual contact with the terrorist organization.
The Suarez investigation is the second ISIS-related case to be prosecuted in South Florida.