Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Official: US bomb suspect met Kosovo radicals

The man accused by U.S. authorities of plotting to bomb Florida nightclubs and a sheriff's office met with radical Islamists during visits to his native Kosovo, a senior official in the country said Wednesday.
International agencies had alerted Kosovo authorities that Sami Osmakac could be linked to Islamist extremists, the official told The Associated Press. He said the 25-year-old, an ethnic Albanian and naturalized U.S. citizen, discussed "issues in support of radical elements" with the individuals he met.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity. He declined to disclose further details.
U.S. authorities say Osmakac planned to use a car bomb and other weapons in an Islamist-inspired attack in the Tampa area of Florida.
He was arrested Saturday — the day officials said he was planning his attack — after he allegedly bought explosive devices and firearms from an undercover agent. The items were disabled prior to the sale.
Before his arrest, Osmakac recorded an eight-minute video explaining why he wanted to bring terror to his "victims' hearts," according to a federal complaint. The complaint said he asked the undercover agent to videotape the explanation.
Online videos have also emerged that show Osmakac railing against Christians, Jews and Western living.
Osmakac lived with his parents in a tan stucco home in Pinellas Park, Fla., a small city west of Tampa. He worked occasionally at the Balkan Food Store and Bakery in St. Petersburg, a small store owned by his parents.
He also occasionally visited his Kosovo, where he still has relatives.
Osmakac's aunt, Time Osmankaj, told the AP on Tuesday that Sami Osmakac was last in Kosovo in October 2011, but that she learned of his visit from neighbors and that he did not contact her or other relatives. Kosovo authorities also recorded earlier visits, one of them in May 2011.
U.S. officials have used a different spelling for the suspect's last name — Osmakac — than the one his family uses here in Kosovo.
On Wednesday afternoon, Osmakac's brother was working at the family's bakery and shook his head when asked to comment on the case. Osmakac's public defender in Florida, Alec Hall, said he didn't know about the Kosovo connection.
"I don't have any information about that at all," Hall said. "That's something I'll be looking into as his case matriculates into the system. I just don't have any comment."
Kosovo's majority ethnic Albanians are overwhelmingly Muslim and a small minority is Roman Catholic.
The population is a staunch supporter of the U.S. because of America's lead role in NATO's 1999 bombing of Serb forces that drove them out of Kosovo and ended a brutal crackdown on separatist ethnic Albanians.
Some 1,000 American soldiers serve as part of the NATO-led peacekeeping force that is in charge of security in the country, where tensions persist because Serbia has refused to accept Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence.
Osmakac arrived in the U.S. around 2000, when he as 13, according to a video he posted online.
He attended at least two different high schools in Pinellas County, Fla., but it is unclear if he graduated.
In Sept. 2003, he had his first brush with the law. According to a police report, Osmakac got into a fight with some other students and punched a teacher at Pinellas Park High School during the melee. He was charged with battery on a school board official, although the disposition of the case is unknown.
At some point, Osmakac became deeply religious. In 2010, Osmakac began worshipping at a local mosque.
"He was alone and he kept always to himself," said Ahmed Batrawy, the vice president of the Islamic Society of Pinellas County. "He was very, very quiet."
In November 2010, Osmakac and another young man — an American convert to Islam — had a heated discussion with Batrawy at the mosque. The American convert, Batrawy said, was the one "radicalizing things." Osmakac later started to "trash talk," Batrawy said.
"We don't condone that in our place of worship," Batrawy said he told the young men. When they wouldn't calm down, Batrawy called police, who cited Osmakac and the other man for trespassing.
A month later, Osmakac posted his first video on YouTube, ranting about Christians and Western life. It was titled "A Question For All Christians: What Are You Worshipping???"
Osmakac also had a run-in with Hassan Shibly, the executive director of the Tampa office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Shibly said Osmakac accused CAIR of being an "infidel organization" and said the young man didn't have a good grasp of the Muslim faith. CAIR said Osmakac was banned at two Tampa-area mosques.

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