A 26-year-old resident of Tampa, Florida, has been sentenced to 18 years in federal prison, followed by a lifetime of supervised release, for his attempt to provide material support to the terrorist organization ISIS, according to a statement from the United States Department of Justice (DOJ).
The sentencing comes after the 26-year-old, Muhammed Momtaz Al-Azhari, pleaded guilty to the charges in February 2023.
Court documents reveal that Al-Azhari, a US citizen who had spent a significant portion of his life abroad, adopted extremist Islamist/Salafist beliefs.
Al-Azhari's connections to terrorism
In 2018, he was released from prison in Saudi Arabia, where he had been convicted of supporting terrorism in Syria. Following his release, he was deported to the US.
Upon Al-Azhari's arrival in the US in December 2018, the FBI initiated an investigation into his potential material support for ISIS.
By April 2020, Al-Azhari had begun planning an attack in support of the terrorist organization and had started acquiring multiple firearms. He conducted research and scouted potential targets in the Tampa Bay area.
Additionally, Al-Azhari consumed ISIS propaganda, expressed support for the group and pledged allegiance to ISIS through a bay'ah, an Islamic oath of allegiance. He discussed seeking retribution for the US imprisonment of Muslims, including ISIS fighters, as well as military actions in the Middle East.
Al-Azhari even rehearsed parts of his planned attack, including practicing statements he intended to make in support of ISIS.
During April and May 2020, Al-Azhari had recorded interactions with an FBI undercover employee and a confidential human source (CHS). He attempted to purchase firearms, including a fully automatic rifle, from the undercover employee, resulting in his arrest on state charges of carrying a concealed weapon without a permit.
After his release from state custody, Al-Azhari continued his attempts to acquire firearms from the undercover employee. He also met with the CHS, trying to convert them to Islam, and shared his affiliation with ISIS, plans to provide material support, and intention to send money to the terrorist organization.
Moreover, Al-Azhari enlisted the CHS's help for his ISIS-related plans and robbery schemes, requesting assistance in obtaining a Glock pistol and an unregistered silencer. Authorities apprehended Al-Azhari on May 24, 2020, when he took possession of the firearm and silencer.