U.S. federal authorities are questioning a fugitive from Syria who was accused of plotting to attack a religious institution in Pittsburgh this spring.
Syrian refugee Mustafa Mousab Alowemer, 21, who arrived in the United States almost three years ago, allegedly planned to bomb the Legacy International Worship Center on Pittsburgh’s north side to inspire ISIS followers based in Iraq and sympathizers in the United States to join together and commit similar acts in the name of ISIS.
“Alowemer also targeted the church, which he described as Christian and Nigerian, in order to ‘take revenge for our [ISIS] brothers in Nigeria,'” said a criminal complaint filed at the Western District Court of Pennsylvania on June 18. “Alowemer was aware that numerous people in or around the church could be killed by the explosion.”
Syrian Man Arrested on Terrorism Charges After Planning Attack on Christian Church https://t.co/D37lKdbPND
— Justice Department (@TheJusticeDept) June 19, 2019
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested Alowemer on June 19, claiming that he bought items he thought were required to build a bomb.
“In or around June 2019, Alowemer purchased several items with the belief that they were necessary to assemble a destructive device … among the items Alowemer purchased were acetone (in the form of nail polish remover), nine volt batteries, ice packs, and nails,” the complaint said.
Statement by Assistant Director Michael McGarrity, of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division on Mustafa Mousab Alowemer, a Syrian man, arrested on terrorism charges after planning attack on Christian church. https://t.co/kmxDl08ufT pic.twitter.com/T2KM9k7sqg
— FBI (@FBI) June 20, 2019
It also said that Alowemer intended to do the bombing sometime in the month of July by delivering the explosives to the church in a backpack, according to the complaint.
The U.S. Department of Justice vowed to bring to justice those who seek to commit violence on behalf of ISIS and other terrorist organizations.
“Targeting places of worship is beyond the pale, no matter what the motivation,” department Assistant Attorney General Demers said in a statement.
The FBI believes Alowemer entered the United States through John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens in August 2016. He had since relocated to Pittsburgh where he recently graduated from a public high school in Pittsburgh.
Alowemer has no legal permanent residency status in the United States, according to the complaint.
JUST IN: FBI alleges that a 21-year-old Syrian man, who it says was admitted to US as a refugee in Aug. 2016, was planning bombing attack on a church in Pittsburgh; had recorded a video of himself pledging allegiance to ISIS leader; he was arrested today. https://t.co/kdrUxk2XiK
— NBC News (@NBCNews) June 19, 2019
Alowemer had also been caught distributing “multiple Arabic language instructional guides and documents related to the construction and use of explosives and improvised explosive devices” to an FBI employee in May whom he had been lead to believe was a fellow ISIS-supporter.
The FBI also said that his online activities and social networking account demonstrated a “substantial consumption and approval of ISIS propaganda aspirations to join ISIS.”
“The ‘intro’ section of the social networking account included a phrase in Arabic text that an FBI linguist translated as ‘hoping to Allah that he dies in a way that does not require the traditional funeral cleansing and burial rituals,'” the complaint said.
“This same FBI linguist interpreted this statement to mean that ALOWEMER wanted to die by being blown up, which would render traditional Islamic funeral rituals unnecessary or impossible.”
U.S. Attorney Scott W. Brady said investigators and prosecutors will work tirelessly to disrupt terrorist activity and keep the community safe.
“Our top priority is protecting the citizens of western Pennsylvania,” he said in a statement. “This case is a visible demonstration of our commitment to rooting out terrorists and bringing them to justice.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.