A 21-year-old Pittsburgh resident and Syrian refugee accused of planning an attack on a Christian church on the city’s North Side and providing resources to ISIS has been arrested.
Mustafa Mousab Alowemer, 21, was arrested Wednesday based on a federal complaint charging him with one count of attempting to provide material support and resources to ISIS, and two counts of distributing information relating to an explosive, destructive device or weapon of mass destruction in relation to a plan to attack a church.
Alowemer allegedly planned to bomb the Legacy International Worship Center using a weapon of mass destruction. The FBI said Alowemer thought he was plotting online and in person with fellow ISIS sympathizers, but they were actually undercover for the FBI.
When Legacy International Worship Center Pastor Michael Day received a call from the FBI, he was overwhelmed.
“I am grateful nothing did happen and I’m grateful that we are able to show that God covered us and protected us and that people are still alive, and that people are able to hug their children and loved ones,” Pastor Michael Day said.
According to the complaint, Alowemer was born in Daraa, Syria, and was admitted to the United States as a refugee on Aug. 1, 2016.
The complaint said he is a recent graduate of a Pittsburgh high school. Pittsburgh school records show a Mustafa Alowemer graduated from Brashear High School earlier this month. A Pittsburgh school spokesperson said education officials are cooperating with the FBI but declined further comment.
Alowemer caught the attention of investigators on social networks and encrypted messaging apps in April. He was allegedly expressing interest in jihad and offering to provide information on potential ISIS attack targets in Pittsburgh.
The FBI said Alowemer recently bought a number of items that could be used in making a bomb. He was seen on Sunday and Monday buying six boxes of nails for possible shrapnel.
Investigators said the explosives that Alowemer wanted to hide in a backpack and detonate by remote control would have likely killed many people in the surrounding North Side neighborhood, even if the church was empty. Investigators said he wanted to hide a second bomb, timed to go off just as Pittsburgh police and first responders arrived at the scene.
In the criminal complaint, Alowemer is quoted as saying, “After two hours, three hours when the police want to come — then when they’ve all come together. They’ll have to lock down the whole Pittsburgh.”
The complaint said that Alowemer wanted to leave an ISIS flag to claim credit and a sign saying, “We’ve arrived.”
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