A Syrian refugee who came to the U.S. three years ago plotted to bomb a church this spring to inspire followers of the Islamic State of Iraq, federal authorities said in announcing the man's arrest Wednesday.
A criminal complaint alleges Mustafa Mousab Alowemer planned to bomb Legacy International Worship Center, a church on Pittsburgh's North Side, and purchased materials he thought were necessary to build a bomb. He also allegedly provided plans and a map to an undercover FBI agent he thought was a fellow Islamic State supporter.
"Targeting places of worship is beyond the pale, no matter what the motivation," Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers said in a statement. "The defendant is alleged to have plotted just such an attack of a church in Pittsburgh in the name of ISIS.
The 21-year-old Alowemer, a Pittsburgh resident, is charged with one count of attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and two counts of distributing information relating to an explosive device or weapon of mass destruction.
Alowemer was born in Daraa, Syria and came to the U.S. as a refugee in 2016, according to the FBI. The federal court docket didn't list an attorney for Alowemer and the Department of Justice didn't return a message seeking whether he had an attorney who could comment on the charges announced Wednesday.
According to the criminal complaint, Alowemer met several times between April and June with the undercover FBI agent and an FBI source. During one of the meetings, Alowemer allegedly provided plot details, bomb materials he'd purchased and printed copies of Google satellite maps with markings showing the location of the church plus arrival and escape routes.
Alowemer planned to carry out the bombing next month by delivering the explosives in a backpack, according to the complaint.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto released a statement praising the FBI and U.S. Attorney's office.
Today’s events are especially alarming due to the suspect’s alleged target of yet another place of worship in our city, like the Tree of Life synagogue, which should be peaceful places of refuge and reflection that are free of threats of violence.
Pittsburgh has historically been a home for refugees and immigrants and will continue to be one. In debates over the refugee crisis the past several years, as people from around the world have sought to flee violence and misery and seek better lives for their families in the United States, I have always been consistent in our message: we welcome all refugees and immigrants, and we oppose hate against anyone in any form, and we also cooperate with law enforcement whenever legitimate and dangerous crimes are threatening us.
Today, unfortunately, those threats come from everywhere. The record shows most terrorists attacking the United States are domestic, such as the man who murdered 11 Tree of Life worshippers in October. The City of Pittsburgh will continue to welcome newcomers to our city and nation, while diligently working with federal law enforcement and others to keep us safe, and to eradicate all attempts to threaten and terrify us.”