Mustafa Mousab Alowemer, 21, is a Syrian refugee living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania that was arrested today for planning a terrorist attack on a Christian church. According to a Federal complaint, Alowemer was charged with one count of providing material support and resources to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and two counts of distributing information relating to an explosive, destructive device, or weapon of mass destruction.
Alowemer was born on June 5, 1998, in Daraa, Syria and is, a citizen and national of Syria. He arrived in the United States on August 1, 2016, when he flew into John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. He was admitted to the U.S. as a refugee in August 2016.
He wanted to join ISIS and commit terrorist acts on behalf of the organization to punish “polytheists” and “take revenge for our [ISIS] brothers in Nigeria” and “our brothers from al-Baghuz”. Al-Baghuz is a town in Syria.
Alowemer plotted to bomb the Legacy International Worship Center located on the North Side of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania using a homemade explosive device. The Federal complaint says he wanted to bomb the church in order to “support the cause of ISIS and to inspire other ISIS supporters in the United States to join together and commit similar acts in the name of ISIS.” He purchased six bottles of nail polish remover, seven ice packs, and three 9-volt batteries to use for making the bomb.
U.S. Attorney Scott W. Brady for the Western District of Pennsylvania said in an announcement, “Every day investigators and prosecutors work tirelessly behind the scenes to disrupt terrorist activity and keep our community safe. While the public does not always see the results of the hard work of these dedicated men and women, this case is a visible demonstration of our commitment to rooting out terrorists and bringing them to justice.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. He Detailed His Plan to Undercover FBI Agents
In May 2019, Alowemer made contact with who he thought were fellow ISIS supporters but were actually FBI Undercover Employee (UCE) and/or an FBI Confidential Human Source (CHS). He met with the agents 4 times between April 16 and June 11. During the meetings, he detailed his plan to bomb Legacy International Worship Center, a church located at 2131 Wilson Avenue on the North Side of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and provided the agents with detailed plans, maps, and instructions for the bombs he was allegedly making.
According to the Federal complaint, on May 24 he sent the UCE agent a “Beginners Course for Young Mujahedeen” which contained “nearly 30 pages of instructions related to jihad, military operations, organizational protocols, and explosives.” and provided “step-by-step instructions to manufacture explosives, toxins, poisons, and IEDs, including “TNT,” “Molotov Cocktails,” “Popular Landmines/IEDs,” “Sodium Bomb,” “Black Gunpowder,” and “Ammonium Nitrate 2.””
Alowemer also distributed these plans via social media networks to other ISIS supporters, requested a silenced weapon from the FBI agent, and offered up potential targets in the Pittsburgh area.
2. He Drafted a 10-Point Handwritten Plan to Bomb the Church
While he was in communications with the FBI agents, Alowemer provided them with a handwritten, 10-point plan that outlined his plan to bomb the Legacy International Worship Center. This operation must be done on a Sunday night in order to shock the enemies of Allah Almighty” he wrote in the plan, “everywhere and all over America, and in order to [illegibleJ from going to their churches and instill fear in their hearts. Around 3:00 or 4:00 at night.”
He then suggests that they should have “two or three brothers” for the operation, “One to drive the vehicle and the other to throw the cooker and the third to surveil”
He also details how they will escape and cover their tracks after the bombing is done, telling FBI agents that they should “be silent on social media or maybe we should delete all our accounts on all social media platforms for a while until things calm down.”
The plan explicitly outlines the terrorist acts he planned to commit and ends every point with “if Allah wills”.
3. He Recorded a Video of Himself Pledging His Allegiance to ISIS
Alowemer made a video as he pledged “Bay’aa” (an oath of allegiance) to the leader of ISIS, Abu BaIa al-Baghdadi. In several text messages sent in Arabic to FBI agents, he details he asks “can I make the Bay’aawhile masked?” and says, “Brother, I will send you the Bay’aa video and you save it because I want to delete it from my device.”
He then sent them the video and confirmed that they received it. The video has not been made public and was not posted to social media.
4. He Was Distributing Propaganda to Other ISIS Sympathizers
Under the pseudonym “Mustafa Alowemer”, Alowemer sent bomb-making handbooks and other ISIS propaganda through social media to FBI agents and other ISIS supporters. He sent FBI agents an “ISIS propaganda video that depicted a large truck bomb being detonated by a militant on a rooftop.”
He was also in communication with “Person 1” who is a woman that “pledged supporter of ISIS”. “Person 1” allegedly used “hacked social networking accounts to collect and distribute information on how to make explosives and biological weapons.” She was arrested, tried in the Eastern District of Wisconsin and plead guilty to “attempting to provide material support to an FTO (i.e., ISIS), in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 23398(a)(1)”
The complaint does not say he was in contact with any other members of ISIS.
5. He Planned to Die for His Cause
Under his social media alias “Mustafa Alowemer”, Alowemer allegedly had a section in his one of his social media “about” sections that said he was “hoping to Allah that he dies in a way that does not require the traditional funeral cleansing and burial rituals.”
The FBI linguist that translated the messaged “interpreted this statement to mean that Alowemer wanted to die by being blown up, which would render traditional Islamic funeral rituals unnecessary or impossible”