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Man Accused Of Trying To Blow Up Synagogue Faces Judge

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) - The man accused of trying to detonate an explosive at a Jewish center in Aventura faced a judge Monday.

James Medina, 40, stood up in court and told the judge he's also known as James Muhammad. He then tried to speak to the judge saying, "I have a few words of my own."  That's when the judge warned him anything he said could be used against him.  He never had a chance to talk.

Medina was arrested Friday following an undercover operation by the South Florida Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF). He is charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction.

According to the FBI, Medina caught their attention in March after having conversations about attacking a synagogue in South Florida.

The FBI said Medina was working with an FBI informant, but had no idea.

During the investigation, the FBI said they found out he wanted to use an explosive device to commit the attack and was studying the synagogue property to find its vulnerabilities.

In the FBI documents, it said a friend of Medina's told him, "he said he wanted to shoot it up and then die while shooting it up, like be a martyr." He also allegedly discussed putting a bomb under car or getting a bomb he could throw over the fence.

On Friday, authorities arrested Medina while he was allegedly approaching the synagogue with what he thought was a bomb.

This isn't reportedly his first run-in with authorities. He was reportedly arrested in Coral Springs, accused of stalking by sending texts threatening gun and bomb violence against a family.

Jimmy Han knows James Medina well. He said they were brothers-in-law and good friends for years.

Han said a few years ago Medina's glass repair business fell on tough times, his marriage failed and most crucially, Medina lost the ability to see his son.

"He was really hurt that he didn't get to see his son for a long time," Han said. "He really went off the deep end."

Han believes that set Medina on a dangerous downward spiral, which included sending threatening text messages to Han and his wife for supporting Medina's ex-wife.

Han said one text from Medina read, "I was there for both of u. Even walked your wedding, blessing u. I had to get ya back for this now ya dead."

"He said he was going to behead my wife," Han recalled. "He was going to set me fire. He was going to blow up this house and that was in the past year."

Han said he filed criminal charges and got a restraining order against Medina but the charges were dropped.

Despite it all, Han believes the man arrested at this synagogue is not the same guy he knew for all those years.

"I considered him family," Han said. "He was family. I loved him a lot."

Robert Powlyk knows Medina from the Jubilee Center soup kitchen in Hollywood. He said he saw him last week. He said Medina can be belligerent. In fact, he said Medina threatened him before but he never feared he'd follow through.

"If it's just a case of him threatening to blow up something, I think he's capable of that, whether he would go thru with that, it's a leap I don't want to take," said Powlyk.

As for Friday's arrest, the leadership of the congregation said they were contacted by law enforcement who "assured us that the synagogue and school were never at risk at any time during the investigation and arrest, and that there are no credible threats directed against us at the present time."

Some locals in the area remain concerned.

"I feel a churning in my stomach.  Why, why against the Jews," said concerned citizen Joseph Krammer.

Zion Cohen lives nearby and goes to a different temple.

"Everybody need be more careful, more secure, more police around the area. Everybody need to take care about children," said Cohen. "Jewish people only talk about Shalom, about peace.  I don't see one reason why this guy want to kill Jewish people."

Local leaders also voiced their opinion on the foiled plot.

"I am deeply grateful that the FBI arrested this individual before he was allegedly able to do harm to the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center and its congregants, so many of whom are my constituents, who were observing the end of Passover," said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz in a statement.

"As the month of May begins and we recognize Jewish American Heritage Month, this attempted attack is a harsh reminder that there are many in our community who are motivated by bigotry and violence," Wasserman Schultz added. "As a community and a nation we must work together to confront this kind of hatred."

Medina's next court hearing is scheduled for May 5th to set his bond. However, it is unlikely he will be allowed to bond out. If convicted, Medina could face a maximum sentence of life in prison.

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