PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Mustafa Alowemer, the man accused of plotting to bomb a church on the North Side, has pleaded guilty in federal court to aiding ISIS.
The 23-year-old is accused of planning to bomb the Legacy International Worship Center more than two years ago. He also threatened to kill police.
The Syria native and current Pittsburgh resident came to the United States as a refugee in 2016. He lived in an apartment with his family inside the Pittsburgh Housing Authority neighborhood Northview Heights. He attended Brashear High School as an English as a Second Language student.
In the months leading up to his graduation, the FBI says Alowemer used social media to express his support of ISIS and asked for a weapon with a silencer. He allegedly told an undercover FBI agent he was going to walk up to the Legacy International Worship Center on the North Side with a backpack full of explosives and put the bag on the side of the church.
"It's important to understand that Mr. Alowemer was serious about committing a very destructive act of bombing in our district, that he was committed to going through with it," Acting U.S. Attorney Stephen R. Kaufman said.
In federal court, Alowemer pleaded guilty to one of three counts in connection with the plan but had he gone to trial, federal prosecutors say they would have presented evidence of a much deeper plan of terror.
They say he planned on detonating the bomb at the church in support of ISIS and ISIS brothers in Nigeria, detonating a second bomb to kill first responders coming to the aid of victims, killing an American serviceman for killing ISIS fighters in Iraq and then traveling abroad to conduct other Jihadists attacks overseas.
Initially, Alowemer's defense attorney raised the specter of entrapment. Rather than plan these attacks, they said they were suggested by an undercover FBI agent and an operative posing as ISIS sympathizers, something Kaufman emphatically denied.
"He purchased parts for the bomb, he had satellite maps of the areas, he had the idea to plant the second bomb. This all came from Alowemer and there was not any leading on or pressure on the part of the FBI," said Kaufman.
Even pleading guilty, Alowemer is looking at a maximum of 20 in prison and Kaufman said there would be no asking for leniency on the part of the office at sentencing in January before Judge Marilyn Horan.
"We've promised nothing in terms of the sentence. We will be asking for a very substantial sentence from Judge Horgan," said Kaufman.
"Huge support from our counsel and FBI -- just their diligence and work through all of this," said Legacy International Worship Center Pastor Michael Day.
Day said his congregation was exceedingly thankful for those efforts and said his congregation is anxious to calmly move forward without fear.
"Relief, start of a healing process for ourselves and our city. Relief and peace," he said.
FBI Special Agent in Charge Mike Nordwall said the bureau remains hyper-vigilant to investigate and stop potential acts of terrorism — domestic and international.
"There are people out there wishing to do harm to people of our community and the nation and the FBI and Joint Terrorism Task Force is out there watching for those people and ready to act," said Nordwall.
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