The 25-year-old Kosovo-born American suspected of plotting an Islamist-inspired attack in Florida came from a "very good family" that moved from place to place in search of economic opportunity and respite from conflict in the former Yugoslavia, an aunt said Tuesday.
The allegations against her nephew, Sami Osmakac, have left her in shock and disbelief, the aunt told The Associated Press in an interview.
"It felt very strange to hear what he was being accused of," Time Osmankaj said. "I don't believe he did what they accuse him of doing. There was no better kid around here."
U.S. federal authorities have charged Sami Osmakac, a naturalized U.S. citizen who is of ethnic Albanian origin, with plotting to attack Tampa-area nightclubs and a sheriff's office with bombs and an assault rifle to avenge wrongs done to Muslims.
U.S. officials are using a different spelling for his last name Osmakac than what his relatives use here in Kosovo.
Osmakac's aunt lives in a two-story house in a remote hillside in Kosovo's southwest bordering Albania. She said her nephew's family left the secluded hamlet of Lubizde in the early 1990s for Bosnia where Sami's father ran a bakery. Kosovo was then part of the now defunct Yugoslavia.
The family was caught in the whirlwind of Yugoslavia's violent breakup during the 1990's. They moved initially to Germany and then to the United States. The Lubizde area was hard hit during the 1998-99 Kosovo war, when ethnic Albanians fought a separatist war against Serbia that ended with U.S.-led military intervention in Kosovo.
Over the years, Sami Osmakac's family "helped us a lot and frequently sent money," the aunt said, nervously clutching her robe as her daughter looked on. "We had no idea that he had any troubles or anything like that."
She added that Sami Osmakac was last in Kosovo in October 2011, but that she learned of his visit from neighbors and that he did not contact her or other relatives.
Osmakac was arrested Saturday the day officials said he was planning his attack after he allegedly bought explosive devices and firearms from an undercover agent. The firearms and explosives were disabled before the sale.
A police official in Kosovo told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Osmakac was "known to Kosovo authorities" and that "security agents were aware of his whereabouts during his last visit in Kosovo."
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media. He declined to disclose other details, including whether authorities tracked Osmakac at the request of the United States. He also did not specify when Osmakac was last spotted in Kosovo.
Kosovo's ethnic Albanians are predominantly Muslim, while a small minority is Roman Catholic.
The population is a staunch supporter of the U.S. because of America's lead role in NATO's 1999 bombing of Serb forces that drove them out of Kosovo and ended a brutal crackdown on separatist ethnic Albanians.
Kosovo authorities say they work closely with U.S. officials in tracking down potential Islamic radicals but are puzzled as to what has led some individuals to target Americans.
A 21-year-old ethnic Albanian from Kosovo, Arid Uka, is on trial in Germany for killing two and wounding two more U.S. airmen at the Frankfurt airport last year.
Another Kosovo-born man, Hysen Sherifi, faces up to 15 years in jail in the U.S. for allegedly being part of a group that raised money, stockpiled weapons and trained in preparation for jihadist attacks against American military targets and others they deemed enemies of Islam.
Some 1,000 U.S. soldiers serve as part of NATO's 5,000-strong peacekeeping force in Kosovo. Tensions still plague the area because Serbia has rejected Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence.