ISIS supporter who planned Tampa Bay attack convicted

Mohammed Momtaz Al-Azhari earlier this year pleaded guilty to trying to provide weapons and money to ISIS.

TAMPA, Florida. A 26-year-old man who planned the Tampa Bay terror attack will spend about 20 years in prison for trying to support ISIS, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

Mohammed Momtaz Al-Azhari was convicted of attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, namely ISIS. Back in February, Al-Azhari pleaded guilty almost three years after his first arrest.

Material support includes giving money, property, and even weapons to someone or an organization.

Al-Azhari will remain in prison for the next 18 years, after which he will be released for life under supervision, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida said in a statement.

In May 2020, when Al-Azhari was arrested, federal investigators said he was secretly buying powerful weapons and silencers, and researching IEDs, suicide vests, and explosive poisons. This was all part of his plan to support ISIS, the report said.

Investigators said he was investigating potential targets at the time, such as Honeymoon Island and the FBI field office in Tampa, but also investigated Clearwater Beach, Tampa’s Bayshore Boulevard, and the Seminole Hard Rock Casino.

According to law enforcement officers, he even rehearsed the details of the planned terrorist attack.

Court documents describe Al-Azhari as an ISIS supporter who “absorbed ISIS propaganda and spoke positively” about the terrorist group.

Al-Azhari, a US citizen, spent most of his life abroad before being sentenced to three years in 2015 on terrorism charges in Saudi Arabia. After his release in 2018, he was deported to the US, spending time in Florida and California.

He returned to Tampa in 2019 and, less than a year later, in April 2020, began trying to illegally buy guns on eBay, according to federal investigators. According to officials, he was followed by the FBI during this time.

At some point in 2020, Al-Azhari reportedly expressed “admiration” for the shooter at the Pulse nightclub and said he wanted to carry out a similar mass shooting.

In January 2022, a federal judge ruled that Al-Azhari could not stand trial.

Previous reports from 10 Tampa Bay have contributed to this article.

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