Mustafa Mousab Alowemer, 21, a resident of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was arrested today 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 device in relation to his plan to attack a church in the city next month.
“Targeting places of worship is beyond the pale, no matter what the motivation,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers.
“Court documents show Mustafa Alowemer planned to attack a church in the name of ISIS, which could have killed or injured many people. Fortunately, his plans were foiled by the full force of the FBI Pittsburgh Joint Terrorism Task Force,” said Assistant Director Michael McGarrity of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division. “The FBI takes threats to churches and other religious institutions extremely seriously and will use all our resources to stop potential terrorist attacks against them.”
According to an affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh, the FBI Pittsburgh JTTF investigation of Alowemer revealed that he plotted to bomb a church located on the North Side of Pittsburgh. According to Alowemer, his motivation to detonate a device at the church was 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. Alowemer said he targeted the Legacy International Worship Center, largely attended by Nigerians, in order to “take revenge for our [ISIS] brothers in Nigeria.”
According to the complaint and information provided to the FBI by the Department of Homeland Security, Alowemer was born in Daraa, Syria, and was admitted to the United States as a refugee on Aug. 1, 2016, graduating from high school in Pittsburgh.
In May 2019, according to the complaint, Alowemer distributed multiple instructional documents related to the construction and use of explosives and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to an individual Alowemer believed to be a fellow ISIS supporter, but who was in fact an FBI employee. This month, authorities said Alowemer purchased several items with the belief that they were necessary to assemble a destructive device and with the intention that they be used to construct the explosives that would be detonated in the vicinity of the church.
In planning the attack, according to the complaint, Alowemer used multiple social networking and mobile messenger applications to communicate with an individual whom he believed to be a fellow ISIS supporter. During his communications, Alowemer stated his support for ISIS, and his desire to answer the call for jihad or travel to conduct jihad. Alowemer also distributed propaganda materials, offered to provide potential targets in the Pittsburgh area, requested a weapon with a silencer, and recorded a video of himself pledging an oath of allegiance to the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.
Between April 16 and June 11, Alowemer met four times in person with an FBI Undercover Employee (UCE) and/or an FBI Confidential Human Source (CHS). At the June 11 meeting with the UCE and CHS, Alowemer provided additional details about the bomb plot and provided the materials he had purchased for construction of the device, said the complaint. Alowemer provided two printed copies of detailed Google satellite maps, which included hand-written markings identifying the church and routes of arrival and escape. Alowemer also wrote and provided a 10-point handwritten plan (“Confirmation of this operation”) outlining details related to his plot to personally deliver explosives in a backpack. Alowemer expressed a desire to meet one more time to conduct planning and coordination prior to carrying out the attempted bombing in July. That meeting was later scheduled for June 19 in the Pittsburgh area.