Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Public safety

Official: Tampa bomb plot suspect met with Kosovo radicals

The Pinellas Park man accused by U.S. authorities of plotting bomb attacks in Ybor City and South Tampa had met with radical Islamists during visits to his native Kosovo, a senior official in that country said Wednesday.

International agencies had alerted Kosovo authorities that the man, Sami Osmakac, could be linked to Islamist extremists, the official told the Associated Press.

The official, who the news agency said spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Osmakac discussed "issues in support of radical elements" with the extremists, but would not provide details.

Osmakac was arrested Saturday in a Tampa hotel as he was preparing to carry out a plot that had changed time and again, federal authorities said.

Osmakac was acting alone, said Robert O'Neill, the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Florida.

The case against him began to unfold in September, when an informer tipped off the FBI field office in Tampa that Osmakac was looking for an al-Qaeda flag and talked of striking targets in the Tampa Bay area.

It was never clear if Osmakac, 25, had the wherewithal to even carry out such attacks — and the targets outlined in a federal complaint kept shifting, from bay bridges to a sheriff's building to nightclubs in Ybor City to MacDinton's, an Irish bar in South Tampa.

An undercover FBI agent secretly recorded conversations and meetings with Osmakac, the federal affidavit said, and eventually supplied him with weapons and a bomb that were fake.

Osmakac lived with his parents in a tan stucco home in Pinellas Park. He worked occasionally at the Balkan Food Store and Bakery in St. Petersburg, a small store owned by his family.

He is a native of Kosovo, but later became a U.S. citizen.

He occasionally visited Kosovo, where he still has relatives.

Osmakac's aunt, Time Osmankaj, told the Associated Press on Tuesday 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.

Kosovo authorities said they also recorded earlier visits, one of them in May 2011.

Federal authorities use a different spelling for the suspect's name — Osmakac — than the one his family uses in Kosovo.

Osmakac's public defender, Alec Hall, said he didn't know about the Kosovo connection.

Kosovo's majority ethnic Albanians are overwhelmingly Muslim and a small minority is Roman Catholic. The population is a staunch supporter of the United States 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.

Osmakac arrived in the United States around 2000, when he was 13, according to a video he posted online. At some point, he became deeply religious. In 2010, he began worshipping at a mosque.

But his extremist views and rhetoric put him on the outs with local Muslim leaders. He was banished from two Tampa Bay area mosques.

Osmakac appears in at least a half dozen videos on YouTube — videos that are angry, defiant and filled with complaints about nonbelievers and evils of the secular world. His arrest also has gone viral on blogs, drawing praise for the government or castigation for the Muslim's community's cooperation with authorities.

When his arrest was announced Monday in Tampa, authorities said the local Muslim community helped make the case.

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