Syrian Refugee Arrested on Terrorism Charges After Planning Attack on Pittsburgh Church 'in the Name of ISIS'

The Legacy International Worship Center, Pittsburgh, PA.

A Syrian refugee was arrested on Wednesday in connection with an Islamic State-inspired terrorist attack on a Christian church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the name of ISIS.

According to the criminal complaint, Mousab Alowemer, 21, was born in Daraa, Syria, and was admitted to the United States as a refugee on Aug. 1, 2016. Alowemer, now a resident of Pittsburgh, is being charged with one count of attempting to provide material support and resources to the Islamic State, and two counts of distributing information relating to an explosive, destructive device, or weapon of mass destruction in relation to his plan to attack the church, court documents show.

The FBI Pittsburgh Joint Terrorism Task Force investigation revealed that Alowemer planned to hit the Legacy International Worship Center, a church on the north side of Pittsburgh in July "to support the cause of ISIS and to inspire other ISIS supporters in the United States." Alowemer also targeted the Church -- which he believed to be Christian and Nigerian -- to “take revenge for our [ISIS] brothers in Nigeria,” according to the complaint.

In May 2019, Alowemer distributed multiple instructional documents on how to build and use explosives and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to an undercover FBI agent whom he believed was a fellow ISIS supporter, according to the Department of Justice.

Alowemer distributed these documents with the intent that the information be used in the assembly of a destructive device and in furtherance of conducting an attack in support of ISIS. In or around June 2019, 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, 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.

Alowemer met with an FBI Undercover Employee (UCE) and/or an FBI Confidential Human Source (CHS) in person four times between April 16 and June 11.

During his last meeting with the UCE and CHS, Alowemer provided materials he had purchased for construction of the explosive device, and "two printed copies of detailed Google satellite maps, which included hand-written markings identifying the Church and routes of arrival and escape."

Among the items Alowemer allegedly purchased to assemble an explosive device were acetone (in the form of nail polish remover), 9-volt batteries, ice packs and nails, according to the complaint.

He also wrote and provided a 10-point handwritten plan (“Confirmation of this operation”) detailing his plot to personally deliver the explosives to the church in a backpack. Alowemer expressed a desire to meet one more time to conduct planning and coordination prior to carrying out the attempted bombing planned on July 2019. That meeting was later scheduled for June 19 in the Pittsburgh area.

"Alowemer was aware that numerous people in or around the Church could be killed by the explosion," the DOJ said in its statement. That, of course, was the entire point. The would-be terrorist also expressed interest in targeting first responders with a second device.

“Targeting places of worship is beyond the pale, no matter what the motivation,” said Assistant Attorney General Demers. “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. I want to thank the agents, analysts, and prosecutors who are responsible for this investigation.”

“Our top priority is protecting the citizens of western Pennsylvania,” said U.S. Attorney Brady. “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.”

“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 McGarrity. “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.”

“We will use every resource available to identify potential violent actors and protect the public,” said Special Agent in Charge Jones. “Our Joint Terrorism Task Force is dedicated to identifying and bringing to justice those individuals who provide material support to foreign terrorist organizations, promote violent extremism and threaten our national security. The invaluable partnerships the FBI Pittsburgh JTTF has with our federal state and local partners allow us to work tirelessly to protect Americans from terrorism.”

Members of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force who were directly involved in this investigation include "the FBI, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement(ICE)/U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services(USCIS)/Homeland Security Investigations(HSI), Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation, United States Secret Service, United States Postal Inspection Service, Pennsylvania State Police, Allegheny County Police Department, Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, Allegheny County Port Authority Police, Allegheny County Probation, University of Pittsburgh Police Department, and UPMC Police Security," according to the DOJ.