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A Syrian refugee pleaded guilty Thursday to one count of attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State (ISIS), according to the Department of Justice.
Mustafa Mousab Alowemer, 23, of Pittsburgh, who was admitted to the U.S. as a refugee in 2016, pleaded guilty to attempting to support ISIS in relation to his plan to commit a terror attack at a Pittsburgh church.
His plan was to deliver the bomb to Legacy International Worship Center and detonate it remotely, ABC News reported.
“The defendant, motivated by ISIS’s call to violence and hate, plotted a terrorist attack targeting a church in Pittsburgh,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Mark J. Lesko of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “With today’s guilty plea, he will be held accountable for his crimes. The Department of Justice is committed to identifying, disrupting and holding accountable individuals who seek to engage in such attacks. I commend the agents, analysts and prosecutors who identified the threat posed by this defendant and took action to protect the public from his plans.”
“Inspired by ISIS, Mustafa Alowemer devised and intended to carry out a deadly attack on a house of worship and its congregation,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Stephen R. Kaufman for the Western District of Pennsylvania. “If not for the tireless, multi-faceted investigation by the FBI and our partner agencies, the true depth of his determination to commit violence in the name of ISIS may not have been exposed until his deadly plans were achieved.”
“The guilty plea today by Mustafa Alowemer leaves no question about his intention to commit an act of terrorism against a place of worship,” said Special Agent in Charge Mike Nordwall of the FBI’s Pittsburgh Field Office. “Mr. Alowemer will now face the consequences of his elaborate plan to inflict harm on innocent people. I’m proud of FBI Pittsburgh and all of the personnel who worked countless hours to protect the community, and I want to thank all of the agencies that participate in the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. Together, we combine our resources to identify and disrupt threats to protect our communities and the nation.”
According to court documents, Alowemer plotted to bomb a church located on the north side of Pittsburgh using an explosive device. His stated motivation to conduct such an attack was to support the cause of ISIS and to inspire other ISIS supporters in the United States to join together and commit similar acts in the name of ISIS. Alowemer also targeted the church to “take revenge for our [ISIS] brothers in Nigeria.” Alowemer was aware that numerous people in the proximity of the church could be killed by the explosion.
In furtherance of the plot to bomb the church, in May 2019, Alowemer distributed multiple instructional documents related to the construction and use of explosives and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to an individual Alowemer believed to be a fellow ISIS supporter, but who was in fact an FBI employee. Alowemer distributed these documents with the intent that the information be used in the assembly of a destructive device and in furtherance of conducting an attack in support of ISIS. In or around June 2019, Alowemer purchased several items, including nails and acetone (nail polish remover) with the belief that they were necessary to assemble a destructive device and with the intention they be used to construct the explosives that would be detonated in the vicinity of the church.
Between April 16 and June 11, Alowemer met four times in person with an FBI Undercover Employee (UCE) and/or an FBI Confidential Human Source (CHS). At the June 11 meeting with the UCE and CHS, Alowemer provided additional details about the bomb plot and provided the materials, including boxes of nails, he had purchased for construction of the device. Alowemer provided printed copies of detailed Google satellite maps, which included hand-written markings identifying the church and routes of arrival and escape. Alowemer also wrote and provided a 10-point handwritten plan outlining details related to his plot to personally deliver explosives in a backpack. Alowemer expressed a desire to meet one more time to conduct planning and coordination prior to carrying out the attempted bombing in July 2019. That meeting was later scheduled for June 19 in the Pittsburgh area, at which time Alowemer was arrested.
Alowemer is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 26, 2022. He faces a maximum of 20 years in prison, a fine of $250,000.00, or both, and a lifetime term of supervised release. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Pending sentencing, the court ordered that Alowemer remain detained in the custody of the U.S. Marshals.