TAMPA — Did Sami Osmakac know what he was doing as he placed a car bomb in the trunk of his sedan in early 2012, or was he being manipulated by the FBI?
That question is expected to go before jurors today, when they are set to begin deliberations in the terrorism trial of a Kosovo-born U.S. citizen who plotted to attack various locations in Tampa. Caught in a sting set up by the FBI, Osmakac, 27, is accused of possessing an unregistered machine gun and attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction. He faces life in prison if convicted.
In his closing argument, Osmakac's attorney George Tragos acknowledged the tough odds his client is facing. "It will be extremely difficult to acquit Sami Osmakac," he told the jury.
Not only did Osmakac purchase a vast array of weapons from an undercover FBI agent, but the agency recorded him talking about his plans to detonate a car bomb next to MacDinton's, an Irish pub in South Tampa. Next, Osmakac confided in the agent that he wanted to take hostages inside of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa. He would kill one of them every 30 minutes until the government ceded to his demands and released Muslim prisoners. At that point, he planned to kill himself by setting off a suicide bomber vest. The weapons were inert and no such attacks occurred.
None of this could have taken place if the government had not coerced Osmakac, Tragos said, arguing that his client had no intention of killing Americans before the FBI planted the idea in his mind.
The agency paid a confidential informer more than $24,000 for his work in the case, and it was this man who went to work on Osmakac, Tragos said. Within weeks of meeting the informer, Osmakac had gone from saying things like "Islam means peace" to calculating how big of a blast he would need to kill as many people as possible, he said.
Osmakac was unusually vulnerable to the agency's tactics, Tragos said. A psychologist hired by the government found that Osmakac's IQ was below average. And in addition to the two mental health experts hired by the defense, two court-appointed experts concluded that he suffered from depression and clung to delusional thoughts. He takes Risperdal, an anti-psychotic prescribed by jail doctors.
To rebut those findings, prosecutors called Dr. Paul Montalbano, a psychologist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center who interviewed Osmakac five times after his arrest. Montalbano said Osmakac was not delusional or psychotic; he was far too high-functioning for someone with a severe mental illness.
"It's important to differentiate between a mental disorder and a cultural belief," he said.
That Osmakac believed he would become a martyr if he killed non-Muslims was not a symptom of a sick mind, he said, but of the extreme strain of Islam that he followed. On the FBI's recordings, he can be heard defending Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S.-born cleric who became an influential al-Qaida leader.
"This is something he was inclined to do," Montalbano told jurors.
Montalbano said he had spent more than 17 hours interviewing Osmakac and had devoted about 115 hours on the case. He billed the government about $40,000 for his expert services — not including the time spent on the stand Monday.
Anna M. Phillips can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3354.