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Mental evaluation of terror suspect OK'd

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 09:21 PM
TAMPA -

More than a year before he was arrested and accused of plotting a terrorist attack, Sami Osmakac was under extensive surveillance by hundreds of federal agents and law enforcement officers, according to new court pleadings.

Investigators used airplanes and hidden cameras to monitor Osmakac's moves. They recorded many of his conversations and were shadowing him with at least one informant.

Osmakac appeared to be aware he might be under surveillance, as agents reported him taking unspecified "countersurveillance maneuvers" on at least one occasion when he was being followed on his way to a Clearwater mosque. The informant also repeatedly described Osmakac as "paranoid," describing him as moving around a mosque during prayers and refusing to talk where he could be heard.

Osmakac, a naturalized citizen from Kosovo, was arrested last year on charges of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and possession of an unregistered machine gun after an undercover sting by the FBI. Authorities said he planned to attack a busy Tampa night spot, then take hostages and demand the release of Muslim prisoners.

He is scheduled to go on trial May 13.

Earlier this month, a federal judge ordered a mental evaluation of Osmakac, who had unsuccessfully tried to fire his lawyer. U.S. Magistrate Anthony Porcelli concluded there is "reasonable cause to believe" that Osmakac may be suffering from a "mental disease," and he appointed an expert to determine whether he is competent to stand trial.

Describing Osmakac as "a vulnerable religious zealot," defense lawyer Ralph Fernandez filed a motion asking the court to order the prosecution to turn over evidence, including information about payments to a confidential informant. A hearing has been scheduled for Thursday.

In his motion, Fernandez detailed information contained in material turned over to the defense in preparation for trial. According to that information, Fernandez wrote, Osmakac was under "extensive surveillance" by Nov. 1, 2010, 14 months before he was arrested.

"Airplanes were used, pole cameras filmed, audio and visual interceptions recorded," Fernandez wrote.

After Osmakac was arrested, his sister told investigators her brother had become more religious after being in a plane that experienced rough turbulence in August 2009.

Authorities said Osmakac's intended terrorism target shifted over the course of the investigation, at times involving government buildings, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office operations center in Ybor City and, ultimately, a pub in Tampa.

Fernandez' court pleadings also contain references to statements Osmakac was reported to have made about wanting to target a Marine recruiting center in Temple Terrace or the Temple Terrace Police Department.

He also is described as going with another man to Orlando, where they discussed attacking a mall, a church or a football stadium. They also talked about driving a fertilizer truck into the Pentagon.

The informant, who owned a shop where Osmakac worked, reported to the FBI that Osmakac said he tried to get into Afghanistan, where he wanted to fight, but was turned away at the border.

Osmakac reportedly told the informant that the FBI was following him because they were afraid of him.

Less than two months before his arrest, Osmakac was described by the informant as "desperate." Osmakac's "radicalization is increasing every day and it does not appear that he can be fixed," the informant told the FBI.

Although Osmakac was described as being involved with two other people, at least one of them reportedly backed out of the plan before any specific steps were taken, and the other was not arrested.


esilvestrini@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7837 Twitter: @ElaineTBO

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