Thursday, June 21, 2018
News Roundup

Feds accuse man of planning bomb and gun attacks in South Tampa and Ybor City

TAMPA

Sami Osmakac stood in front of a Tampa church one night in 2010, ranting for 13 minutes about Christianity and the evils of the secular world.

"What's the matter with you?" asked Osmakac in a video later posted on YouTube. "Trying to follow their ways? Trying to go to nightclubs, like them? Trying to fornicate, like them? Trying to get with their women? … Submit to the rule of Allah."

It's the kind of rhetoric that made Osmakac an outcast in Tampa Bay's Muslim community and helped bring him to the attention of the FBI.

Osmakac, 25, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Pinellas Park and a native of Kosovo, was arrested on Saturday and charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction. He is accused in a federal complaint of plotting to obtain weapons and explosives for a car bomb to carry out attacks in Tampa.

Unbeknownst to Osmakac, he sought the weapons from an undercover FBI agent introduced to him by his employer, who was an informer for the FBI.

On Osmakac's shifting list of targets, the complaint said, were an Irish pub in South Tampa, later identified as MacDinton's, nightclubs in Ybor City, a Hillsborough County sheriff's operations center and Tampa Bay bridges.

He said he wanted to instill terror in his victims' hearts, calling it "payback" for wrongs done to Muslims, an arrest affidavit said.

"We all have to die," Osmakac said at one point, according to the affidavit. "So why not die the Islamic way?"

The FBI said he was working alone. And it's unclear if Osmakac ever had the means to carry out such sophisticated terrorist attacks.

Leaders in the local Muslim community urge caution, saying it is important for the courts to determine if Osmakac posed a real threat or was just a big talker entrapped by the FBI.

"Would there have been any real plot without the support and assistance of the FBI?" asked Hassan Shibly, executive director of the Tampa chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, who had been briefed by authorities before the arrest was announced.

U.S. Attorney Robert O'Neill, who said the case was made with the assistance of the local Muslim community, said, "Was it real? It was very real in his mind."

An hour after the news broke Monday, TV crews descended on the Balkan Food Store and Bakery in St. Petersburg, a business owned by Osmakac's family.

Avni Osmakac told Bay News 9 that his brother is not a terrorist and wouldn't have had money to put toward buying any such weapons. Avni Osmakac also said his brother was studying to preach Islam. Other family members declined to comment.

Osmakac, dressed in a blue jail outfit with his wrists and ankles shackled, appeared at a brief hearing in U.S. District Court in Tampa. He sported a long, narrow beard and closely cropped hair. He said little. A judge ordered him held without bail.

The federal Public Defender's Office was appointed to represent him. He faces the possibility of life in prison if convicted.

Osmakac was known in Tampa Bay's Muslim community for his extremist views and rhetoric. He had been banned by two area mosques, said CAIR's Shibly.

In a Muslim community that is often wary of FBI tactics in terrorism cases, some viewed Osmakac with suspicion as he promoted his extremist views, said Ahmed Bedier, founder of United Voices for America, a nonprofit group promoting Muslim participation in the political process.

"For a while, we thought he was an FBI informant himself," Bedier said in an interview.

Bedier said Osmakac had threatened him several times and had called him a "kafir," an Arabic word for infidel. Bedier said he previously had reported Osmakac and several of his companions to police and the FBI.

"He hated democracy," Bedier said. "In his perverted thinking, he thought by Muslims taking part in the democratic process, they were giving up their faith."

In November 2010, Osmakac was asked to leave the Islamic Society of Pinellas County, a mosque in Pinellas Park. Pinellas Park police issued a trespass warning to him and two others.

Mosque leaders discovered that Osmakac had made an inflammatory YouTube video on mosque property. Police also said the men had been intimidating other members of the mosque.

"We told them they have no right to use the facility," said Dr. Ahmad Batrawy, one of the mosque's founders. "They tried to insult us. So we called the police. . . . I know they have been moving to other mosques and most of the time, they tell them, 'You're not welcome.' ''

Osmakac was involved in other incidents documented by police.

On April 16, Tampa police said, he admitted head-butting a man outside the Tampa Bay Times Forum before a concert by Lady Gaga. The man had taunted Osmakac, who was dressed in Muslim garb, police said. Osmakac said he was defending himself. Osmakac and the other man were charged with misdemeanor battery.

In October 2009, St. Petersburg police said, Osmakac assaulted a 17-year-old at his family's bakery because the teen had told Osmakac his clothes were "sexy." No charges were filed.

The FBI investigation of Osmakac's supposed terrorist plot began Sept. 28 when a confidential informer called the FBI to tell them Osmakac had come into his or her business trying to find flags representing al-Qaida, an arrest affidavit said.

What followed were escalating plans by Osmakac to bring terror to Tampa, authorities said.

Osmakac talked to the informer about potential targets in Tampa and said he needed help getting weapons and explosives, the arrest affidavit said,

The informer would introduce Osmakac to a man who could provide what he sought. The man was an undercover FBI agent.

Osmakac, the FBI said, told the undercover agent he wanted to obtain an explosive belt, grenades, an AK-47 and an Uzi, along with high-capacity ammunition magazines.

Osmakac also asked the agent if he could make three car bombs, the FBI said. The agent suggested one car bomb that could be detonated by a cell phone.

The FBI said Osmakac planned a night attack.

"I want to do something . . . terrifying, like one day, one night, something's going to happen, then six hours later, something else," he said, according to the affidavit.

Osmakac talked of taking hostages after the initial attack, suggesting he would blow up himself and his hostages. The agent said Osmakac told him, "They can take me in five million pieces."

Osmakac said he would have preferred attacking "Army people . . . but their bases are so locked up, I have to do something else."

On Saturday, the undercover agent showed Osmakac the car bomb and various weapons, the FBI said. None were operative.

Osmakac asked the agent to videotape him making a statement in a hotel room, the FBI said. Osmakac sat cross-legged on the floor, with a pistol in hand and an AK-47 behind him.

He talked about Muslim blood being more valuable than the blood of unbelievers, the FBI said.

Later, the undercover agent showed Osmakac how to arm and detonate the car bomb, helping place it in the trunk of Osmakac's car, the affidavit said.

Osmakac was arrested as he tried to drive away.

Times staff writers Waveney Ann Moore and Jodie Tillman and researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Reach William R. Levesque at [email protected] tampabay.com or (813) 226-3432.

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