A federal magistrate judge has ordered a psychiatric evaluation of Harlem Suárez, the second South Florida Cuban arrested by FBI agents after expressing support for the Islamic State, which controls territory in Iraq and Syria and has backed terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino.
The order signed by magistrate judge Lurana S. Snow on Nov. 25 grants 45 days to complete the evaluation to determine whether Suárez, 23, is competent to stand trial on the ISIS-related charges against him.
“Based on the representation of counsel, the court finds that there is reasonable cause to believe that defendant may presently be suffering from a mental disease or defect rendering him mentally incompetent to the extent that he is unable to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him,” according to Snow’s order.
The order indicates that the evaluation could well delay the trial, which was scheduled to begin in January at the federal court in Key West, where Suárez lived with his family before he was arrested in April.
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Suárez has been in federal custody since April 3 on charges related to alleged support for Islamic State and alleged efforts to build and plant a backpack bomb on a South Florida beach — a plot that was never carried out because it was partly concocted by government informants.
The case was the second involving a Cuban in South Florida expressing sympathy for Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISOL, acronyms for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and Islamic State in the Orient and Levant.
The first involved Miguel Morán Díaz, 45, who arrived from Cuba more than 20 years ago and never became a U.S. citizen. Morán Díaz was discovered by FBI agents through his Facebook postings offering to kill civilians. Morán Díaz, a convicted felon, has since pleaded guilty to illegal possession of a firearm and on July 27 was sentenced to 10 years in the federal penitentiary.
Suárez, on the other hand, has pleaded not guilty and demanded trial by jury. But his attorney, Richard Francis Della Fera, has indicated from the outset that Suárez is probably not competent to stand trial.
Della Fera has said his client is an impressionable young man who was obsessed with current events and television news, where he learned of ISIS. Della Fera also said Suárez has no connection to ISIS or Morán Díaz, the first Cuban to be arrested as an ISIS sympathizer.
In her order, Snow noted that Suárez “lacks the ability to consult with counsel with a reasonable degree of rational understanding and is unable to assist properly in his defense.”
Snow also ordered that the evaluation report be in writing and include Suárez’s symptoms, a description of the psychiatric, psychological and medical test performed and their results as well as a diagnosis and prognosis.
Alfonso Chardy: 305-376-3435, @AlfonsoChardy