Life sentence for Florida Keys nail bomb plotter
A man who plotted with an FBI informant to explode a nail-filled backpack bomb on a Florida Keys beach has been sentenced to life in prison.
Harlem Suarez's lawyer had sought a more lenient sentence, but US District Judge Jose Martinez agreed with prosecutors that the plot deserved the maximum term.
Suarez, 25, was convicted by a Key West jury in January of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and providing material support to a terrorist organisation.
"The government was extremely fortunate in this case that (agents) were able to ferret out the defendant's true intentions and monitor his every move," Assistant US Attorneys Karen Gilbert and Marc Anton said in court papers.
"This crime is as serious as it gets."
Suarez was given a life sentence on the weapon of mass destruction charge and 20 years for the material support conviction.
His trial was told he began posting Facebook messages in April 2015 expressing allegiance to the Islamic State extremist group and seeking to recruit new followers. He also researched bomb-making instructions.
That led the FBI to direct informants to make contact with Suarez, even though there was no evidence the Cuban-American had actual IS connections.
But prosecutors said Suarez posted pro-IS videos online and bought a number of weapons, including two handguns, magazines, bulletproof vests and an AR-15 rifle, and attempted to buy an AK-47 assault weapon.
The plot to set off the bomb on a Key West beach developed in conversations with the FBI informants, evidence showed.
The trial heard Suarez believed the backpack bomb would contain galvanised nails and could be detonated remotely with a mobile phone.
The informant said he could get the explosive material to add to those ingredients.
"I can go to the beach at the night time, put the thing in the sand, cover it up, so the next day I just call and the thing is gonna, is gonna make, a real hard noise from nowhere," Suarez told an informant in a recorded call.
Suarez was arrested in July 2015 after accepting an inert explosive from an FBI employee posing as an IS extremist.
He went to trial even though prosecutors offered him a chance to plead guilty to only the material support charge, which carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence.
Defence lawyer Richard Della Fera said Suarez was pressured by his parents not to plead guilty, even telling his mother in a monitored jail phone call that he thought it was impossible to win the case.
"His mother again forcefully interjects, telling him not to think that way and to read his bible and have faith in God," Mr Della Fera said in court papers.
Mr Della Fera also sought a more lenient sentence based on Suarez's lack of criminal history and psychological issues that made him susceptible to IS rhetoric.
"As one who is gullible and easily led, he was easy prey for the informants who appealed to his ego and his need for validation," he said, adding that Suarez "was obviously looking for something to belong to".