Florida resident Harlem Suarez was sentenced to life in prison for attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction obtained from undercover federal agents, and for providing material support to Islamic State.
“The offense is such a serious offense that people need to know that you can’t do that,” Judge Martinez said in the Key West district court after an hour-long sentencing hearing, imposing the life sentence on Tuesday, according to the Miami Herald.
“He was talking the talk. He was walking the walk and was in possession of what he thought was a weapon of mass destruction,” added the judge.
Suarez’s lawyer had asked for a more lenient sentence but Judge Martinez agreed with prosecutors that Suarez should get the maximum term.
The 25-year-old was convicted at a trial on January 27 of buying a bomb and plotting to blow up a Florida Keys beach, in allegiance to Islamic State (IS formerly ISIS/ISIL).
In July 2015, Suarez, who was living with his parents in Key West, met with undercover federal agents he believed were IS sympathizers and purchased a backpack bomb. The bomb contained galvanized nails and could be detonated by a cellular telephone. Suarez was arrested that same month after accepting the inert explosive from the agents.
A jury took 47 minutes to find him guilty as charged.
“He [Suarez] posted a ton of pro-ISIS propaganda including graphic videos and photographs,” Assistant US Attorney Marc Anton said during the hearing, according to the Miami Herald.
“When told the shrapnel would rip through people faster than bullets, he smiled and said, ‘Great, great.’ This defendant has shown no remorse. He has demonstrated no sense of responsibility.”
According to evidence introduced at trial, in April 2015, Suarez’s Facebook postings contained extremist rhetoric and promoted IS. He also researched bomb-making instructions. These online actions led the FBI to have informants make contact with Suarez, even though there is no evidence the Cuban-American man had actual connections with Islamic State.
"I can go to the beach at the night time, put the thing in the sand, cover it up, so the next day I just call and the thing is gonna make, a real hard noise from nowhere," Suarez told an informant in a recorded call, according to AP.
Suarez’s defense attorney, Richard Della Fera, argued his client wouldn’t have had the aptitude or the nerve to detonate a bomb in public among innocent beach-goers.
Della Fera argued Suarez was swayed by the undercover agents and goaded into following through with his talk of buying a bomb.
In seeking a lenient sentence, the lawyer argued that Suarez's lack of criminal history and psychological issues made him susceptible to Islamic State rhetoric.
"As one who is gullible and easily led, he was easy prey for the informants who appealed to his ego and his need for validation," the attorney said, adding that Suarez "was obviously looking for something to belong to."
Suarez has the right to appeal but the federal system has no option of parole.
Analysis by the Mail Online in 2015 said federal and local law enforcement had arrested nearly 70 men and women suspected of IS involvement.
Among them was Cincinnati resident and Islamic convert Christopher Lee Cornell, who bought two M15 semi-automatic rifles and 600 rounds of ammunition who was planning to mount a terrorist raid on Capitol Hill before undercover agents arrested him in the parking lot near the gun shop on January 14, 2015.
According to court documents, the 21-year-old had planned to "build, plant and detonate pipe bombs at and near the US Capitol, then use firearms to shoot and kill employees and officials.”
In another case, New York roommates Noelle Velentzas and Asia Siddiqui allegedly stockpiled gas tanks, fertilizer and a pressure cooker in an apparent bid to emulate the Boston Marathon bombers.
The target of their attack was the funeral for slain police officer Rafel Ramos. Ramos was shot dead in December 2014 along with his partner Wenjian Liu.
Velentzas, 28 is said to have told an undercover agent who converted to Islam to befriend them in 2013 that they wanted to be known as “citizens of the Islamic State.”
They were arrested in April 2015 and are accused of conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction.
In July 2016, the FBI arrested four people in order to disrupt IS-inspired plots, and said it had 1,000 similar probes underway.