Key West terror suspect’s lawyer questions his sanity

Harlem Suarez faces a possible life term.
Harlem Suarez faces a possible life term.

The attorney representing a Key West man indicted on federal terrorism charges over the summer says his client may be too mentally ill to stand trial.

Harlem Suarez, 23, was arrested on July 27 at his Cuban immigrant parents' apartment on Stock Island. Federal prosecutors say he identifies himself as a member of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and wanted to attack people in Marathon, Miami Beach and Key West using bombs.

His lawyer, Richard Della Fera, filed a motion last week stating he does not believe Suarez fully understands what he's accused of and the consequences of a trial. Della Fera added in the motion that it's difficult to properly represent Suarez because his client lacks the "reasonable degree of rational understanding."

He wants a hearing to determine Suarez's mental state and for his client to undergo a psychological evaluation.

Other factors that led Della Fera to question his client's mental capacity were interviews he conducted with Suarez's parents and reviews of his school records.

U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez, who presides in Miami, referred the matter to federal Judge Lurana Snow, whose courtroom is in Key West. At press time, no hearing has been scheduled.

FBI agents began an undercover investigation of Suarez after receiving tips from someone who read his online postings where he discussed his pro-terrorist leanings.

According to an indictment filed in August, Suarez faces life in prison for attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and 20 years in prison for providing material support to a terrorist organization.

Suarez reportedly told undercover FBI informants on July 3 that he wanted to attack police by either detonating a car bomb or by placing bombs underneath police cruisers.

Suarez allegedly came to the attention of authorities after a person to whom Suarez sent a Facebook request noticed his Islamist extremist posts, according to the criminal complaint. That person sent the information to the Palm Beach Sheriff's Office on April 8.

Palm Beach police showed screen shots of Suarez's Facebook page, which was under the name Almlak Benitez, to the FBI, which set up a sting operation using the informants.

Suarez told the informants that he considered himself a member of the Islamic State and that "one day I will cook American" ... "in cages" ... "flaming."

One of the informants, posing as a member of Islamic State, told Suarez at a meeting in a Homestead hotel room that he would get back to him with prices for grenades and other explosive material needed to make a backpack bomb.

Suarez also bought an AK-47 rifle online, but when he went to pick it up at a Key West pawn shop, the clerk there would not give him the weapon because he incorrectly filled out the required forms.

FBI agents arrested Suarez in Key West on July 27 after he met with an informant there who showed him how to detonate explosives.