PITTSBURGH, Pa. — A Syrian man and ISIS supporter who allegedly plotted to bomb a church in Pennsylvania in order to “take revenge for our brothers in Nigeria” has been indicted by a grand jury on terrorism charges.
Mustafa Alowemer, 21 and a refugee, is accused of plotting an attack on Legacy International Worship Center in Pittsburgh, as he considered it to be both Christian and Nigerian.
According to an affidavit from the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), investigators took note of one of Alowemer’s social media accounts last year, in which he wrote that he was “hoping to Allah that [he] dies in a way that does not require the traditional funeral cleansing and burial rituals.” It was also discovered that he had communicated with a supporter of ISIS.
In March, an FBI agent went undercover to pose as an ISIS supporter, and in electronic communication, Alowemer reportedly expressed his desire to wage nafir, or jihad, advising that he planned to pledge his allegiance to ISIS. He also met with another undercover agent and a confidential source as they discussed possible targets in the United States.
Among his potential victims were local Yazidis and Shia Muslims, whom he despised, as well as an American soldier.
“Alowemer affirmed his desire to participate in an attack on American soil and to subsequently escape to Syria, where he ultimately wants to die as a martyr,” the affidavit reads.
The FBI says that Alowemer sent the undercover agent documents about creating explosives, and later told the agent in a meeting that he had decided to attack a “Nigerian” church, also characterizing Christians as mushrikeen, or polytheists.
“In articulating his idea, Alowemer expressed the hope that destroying the church with explosives in the name of ISIS would inspire other ISIS ‘brothers’ in the United States to join together and take similar action,” the document outlines.
He later provided details on how he would carry out the attack, which included a second explosive that would result in a “lockdown” on all of Pittsburgh. The agent and Alowemer also discussed what items were needed to build the bomb(s) and how to avoid being detected as a suspicious shopper.
“On several occasions throughout the meeting, the UCE made clear that the explosive force necessary to accomplish Alowemer’s desired attack would likely kill many people in the residential area surrounding the church, even if the church were unoccupied at the time of explosion, to which Alowemer did not object.”
Last month, Alowemer drove the agent and the confidential informant to the church to show them the location and to further craft the plan.
“This operation must be done on a Sunday night in order to shock the enemies of Allah almighty everywhere and all over America, and in order to [prevent them] from going to their churches and instill fear in their hearts. Around 3:00 or 4:00 at night,” he also allegedly wrote in a handwritten note, according to the affidavit.
Alowemer was later arrested as agents observed what they believed to be serious steps forward to create explosives and conduct the attack.
On Wednesday, a grand jury indicted him on charges of attempting to provide material support and resources to ISIS and distributing information relating to an explosive destructive device.
“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 released by the Department of Justice. “The defendant is alleged to have plotted just such an attack of a church in Pittsburgh in the name of ISIS. The National Security Division and our partners will continue our efforts to identify and bring to justice individuals in our country who seek to commit violence on behalf of ISIS and other terrorist organizations.”
Alowemer had just graduated from Brashear High School, which is now offering counseling to students who may need someone to talk to in light of the allegations.