A Syrian refugee, suspected of planning to bomb a church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has been arrested and charged with an attempt to provide material support to the Islamic State and spreading manuals on explosives.
The suspect, identified as 21-year-old Mustafa Mousab Alowemer, arrived in the US in August 2016. It is unclear if the man was radicalized while in the US or initially arrived in the guise of a refugee, but three years after setting foot on US soil, he devised a meticulous plan to attack a church on the North Side of Pittsburgh with an improvised explosive device, the US Department of Justice says.
Alowemer told a fellow ISIS sympathizer, who was in fact an FBI agent, that he wanted to avenge the killing of “our [ISIS] brothers in Nigeria” as well as inspire other ISIS supporters to carry out similar attacks all over the US. He gave the undercover agent a document titled “Beginners Course for Young Mujahedeen” and a manual on how to build a bomb to be used in an attack planned for July. The guide contained detailed instructions on how to build Molotov cocktails, landmines, IEDs, sodium bombs and other potentially deadly explosives.
He also provided the agent with satellite images of the church and hand-written notes detailing escape and arrival routes. The Syrian allegedly planned to deliver the timer-equipped bomb to the site in his backpack and then have his accomplices drive him to a mosque so they could be seen there after the explosion.
It took Alowemer at least three months to hone the details of his nefarious plan, during which he met with the FBI agent, whom he believed to be his henchman, four times. In late May or early June, Alowemer purchased what he believed were essential parts for the future bomb, including nails, batteries, ice packs and nail polish remover. His final meeting with the agent, in which he hoped to finalize the details of the attack, was scheduled for June 19, the day he was arrested.
The target of his thwarted attack was the Legacy International Worship Center, a small Christian church at 2131 Wilson Ave, which the suspect described as “Nigerian” in his recorded conversations with the undercover agent.
“Alowemer was aware that numerous people in or around the Chruch could be killed by the explosion,” the criminal complaint states.
Before nurturing a plot to blow up the church, he graduated from a local high school. While he arrived as a refugee, the failed bomber did not have permanent resident status, nor did he obtain a US passport.
Alowemer came onto law enforcement’s radar after he left a message in support of the terrorist cause online and later crossed paths with another ISIS sympathizer who was already known to the authorities. Prior to being effectively set up by the FBI, Alowemer was monitored for month. The authorities insist he has never posed a risk to public security.
Alowemer will appear before a judge on Friday to determine the conditions of his detention.