Florida man charged in terror plot that targeted ‘busy beaches’

TAMPA, Fla. — A Florida man was charged with providing material support to the Islamic State after trying to acquire firearms and targeting "busy beaches" for a possible terror attack, federal prosecutors said.

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Muhammed Momtaz Al-Azhari, 23, had negotiated with an undercover FBI employee to purchase a variety of guns and silencers, including an AK-47-style rifle allegedly to be used in an attack. He was arrested Sunday after taking possession of the weapons.

“We are grateful for the hard work and swift action by our law enforcement partners and concerned citizens during this investigation,” U.S. Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez said in a statement. “Their coordination and cooperation in this matter allowed us to interrupt a serious threat, without harm to anyone.”

Al-Azhari was charged with attempting to provide material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization, prosecutors said in a complaint filed Tuesday. The charge carries a potential 20-year prison term.

Al-Azhari scouted a number of Tampa-area locations, including “busy beaches,” the Tampa Bay Times reported.

Al-Azhari, who admired the shooter who killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub massacre in 2016, also went to Orlando, where he visited the site of the shooting.

“I don’t want to take four or five, no. I want to take at least 50,” Al-Azhari said on a recording, according to the affidavit. “You know like, brother Omar Mateen in Orlando did. He took 49 with him.”

He also allegedly rehearsed what he would say when carrying out an attack, some of which was intercepted by electronic surveillance May 16:

“Know America. Today is your emergency. Today we kill from you guys like you killed from us,” he is heard saying, according to the affidavit. “This is a revenge for Muslims.”

A key to the case was an eBay transaction in which Al-Hazhari purchased weapons parts from someone in Texas. The package was halted by the U.S. Postal Service and eBay flagged the purchase. The seller then provided FBI agents with details about the deal and the Postal Service seized the package.

Al-Azhari's lawyer said the charges unfairly portray his client as a terrorist.

“The allegations misunderstand both the law and the evidence,” the public defender, Samuel Landes, said. “I’m thankful that in this country everyone enjoys a presumption of innocence, and I look forward to Mr. Al-Azhari’s day in court before a jury of his peers.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.