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Feds: Man planned terrorism attacks in Tampa

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Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 10:45 AM

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TAMPA -

Federal agents over the weekend arrested a Pinellas Park man described as having extremist jihadist beliefs who wanted to blow up a target in Tampa and create "terror" in victims' hearts.

"I want to do something terrifying," he said, according to a federal complaint, "like one day, one night, something's going to happen. Then six hours later, something else."

Sami Osmakac, 25, was taken into custody after an FBI sting operation in which he tried to buy explosives, at least 10 grenades, Uzis and an AK-47, authorities said.

He was charged with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction.

On New Year's Day, according to the complaint, he was given the chance to back out of the plot. But he declined, saying, "We all have to die, so why not die the Islamic way?"

Osmakac's intended target shifted over the course of the investigation, which spanned several months, at times involving government buildings, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office operations center in Ybor City and, ultimately, a pub in South Tampa, apparently MacDinton's, authorities said.

In discussing a possible Ybor City attack, Osmakac told an undercover agent he wanted to detonate a car bomb near a nightclub on a night when there would be a lot of people in the area, according to the complaint.

"I know a lot of places where it gets real crowded," he is quoted as saying.

He also told the agent he wanted to "take down buildings" and "kill people inside," the complaint states.

After setting off a car bomb, Osmakac planned a second phase of the attack in which he would take hostages and make demands of the FBI, according to the complaint.

Nicole Echorst is a regular at MacDinton's Irish Pub & Restaurant in South Tampa. After hearing about the terrorist bomb plot at the popular SOHO District bar, she said she'd still be there this weekend, although the threat will be on the back of her mind.

"When you hear about it (a terrorist threat) coming to where you live, it stays in the back of your mind more than if it occurred somewhere else," said Echorst, 32.

Echorst has lived in the neighborhood for the past nine months and said she has developed a sense of comfort and security. She knows a lot of people in the neighborhood and knows a lot of people who visit and work at MacDinton's.

Learning of the news, she called it "frightening."

"Despite the number of bouncers they have something like this can happen," Echorst said. "You just can't control it."

"I don't know what the answer is," Echorst said. "If someone is going to do it they are going to find a way. If someone could get through an airport, they can get through a MacDinton's."

Andrew Turek visits MacDinton's on a regular basis. He was surprised it was a target of an alleged terrorist bomb threat.

"You never expect it to be across the street from where I live," said Turek, the owner of Pita Pit on Howard Avenue.

"A terrorist threat can happen anywhere – anywhere with a population," he said. "It kind of hits home when it's so close."

However, Turek said it won't change his routine, including visiting MacDinton's.

"It doesn't worry me to go to Times Square or go to Ground Zero," Turek said. "MacDinton's I'll always go back. It's not even an issue."

The arrest came about, in part, because of assistance from the Muslim community, said U.S. Attorney Robert O'Neill, who expressed his thanks in a news release.

O'Neill and Tampa's FBI chief, Steven E. Ibison, met with local Muslim leaders this morning to discuss the arrest, according to Hassan Shibly, executive director of the local office of the Council on American Islamic Relations.

Authorities wanted to thank the Muslim community for its help and assured it that Osmakac was considered a "lone wolf," Shibly said.

Shibly said Osmakac was banned from two local mosques, and local Muslims were so concerned about his extremist views that they reported him to law enforcement. His views were so extreme, Shibly said, that there were fears he might be mentally unbalanced.

Osmakac "had absolutely no support in the local Muslim community," Shibly said.

If the allegations are true, Shibly said, he wanted to thank the FBI for preventing a violent attack. However, he also cautioned that he wanted to make sure the plan was something initiated by Osmakac and not something urged on by law enforcement to make an arrest.

"If he was instigated by the government, we're going to be very concerned about that," Shibly said.

The sting culminated at a Tampa hotel Saturday night after Osmakac had the person from whom he was purchasing the explosives – unknown to him, an undercover agent – film him making a video explaining his reasoning for the planned attack, according to the complaint.

In the eight-minute video, Osmakac is seen cross-legged on the floor with a pistol in his hand and an AK-47 behind him. In it, according to the complaint, he states that Muslim blood is more valuable than that of people who do not believe in Islam. He says he wants "payback" for wrong that was done to Muslims.

Osmakac, a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in the former Yugoslavia, came to authorities' attention in September when he contacted a store owner and asked for flags representing al-Qaida, according to a federal complaint. Osmakac began working for the owner as a laborer. The store owner contacted the FBI, which initiated an undercover investigation.

Although the informant initially refused to allow agents to record conversations, he or she ultimately participated in recorded meetings with Osmakac, the complaint states.

In one recorded meeting in November, Osmakac drove around Tampa with the informant and talked about carrying out a violent attack, according to the complaint.

The informant told Osmakac he or she could introduce him to someone to provide Osmakac with firearms and explosives. The informant then introduced Osmakac to the undercover agent, according to a federal complaint.

In addition to a car loaded with explosives, Osmakac expressed an interest in a belt loaded with explosives, which he could set off if someone tried to arrest him, authorities said.

Osmakac is scheduled to appear in federal court to hear the charges against him.

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