Would-be Miami synagogue bomber is convert to Islam
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Would-be Miami synagogue bomber is convert to Islam

James Medina arrested for attempting to blow up Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center, told FBI informant it was a 'call of duty'

Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center in Miami (screen capture: Twitter)
Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center in Miami (screen capture: Twitter)

The South Florida man arrested for planning to bomb a Miami synagogue has been publicly identified and charged in federal court.

James Gonzalo Medina, 40, of Hollywood, appeared in court in Miami on Monday afternoon.

Medina, who according to court papers is a convert to Islam, was arrested on a charge of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction in an attempt to blow up the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center during Friday night services, the last night of Passover.

The Conservative synagogue serves some 800 families in Aventura, a thriving Jewish community just north of Miami Beach, according to the synagogue’s website.

Local 10 News reported that the criminal complaint also accuses Medina of planning to attack the synagogue on Yom Kippur. Medina told a confidential informant more than once that he planned to strike during Yom Kippur using AK-47 assault rifles, Local 10 said, citing the complaint. When the informant told Medina the attack might look as if it were orchestrated by the Islamic State, Medina expressed pleasure, believing it would “inspire other Muslims to attack as well.”

Asked by the FBI informant why he wanted to attack the synagogue, Medina said it was his “call of duty” and something he had to do “for the glory of Allah,” the complaint said, according to the Washington Post. Medina also told the informant he believed “Jewish people are the ones causing the world’s wars and conflicts.”

According to the Sun Sentinel, Medina tried to make a speech during his court appearance, but was stopped by US Magistrate Judge William Turnoff after saying, “I’ve got a few words of my own… My name is James Medina, aka James Mohammed.”

Prosecutor Marc Anton told the judge that Medina talked about “obtaining a bomb he could either place under a car or throw it over the wall.”

Medina also recorded farewell videos in which he made threats and said goodbye to his family.

“I am a Muslim and I don’t like what is going on in this world. I’m going to handle business here in America. Aventura, watch your back. ISIS is in the house,” the complaint said he declared in one video.

After the undercover informant provided Medina with what he said was an explosive device, the FBI arrested Medina on his way to the synagogue. The device was not real, authorities said.

Medina is being detained at the Federal Detention Center in Miami and will remain there until at least Thursday, the day of his arraignment and bond hearing.

If convicted, Medina faces a maximum penalty of life in federal prison, according to the Sun Sentinel. He has not indicated whether he will plead innocent or guilty.

In a statement published in the Sun Sentinel, the synagogue said its leadership “has been briefed by law enforcement and Jewish community security officials” and been assured “that the synagogue and school were never at risk at any time during the investigation and arrest, and that there are no credible threats directed against us at the present time.”

Rabbi Jonathan Berkun and other officials from the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center said on Twitter that the synagogue and its affiliated school were open and “operating as usual” on Monday.

Medina has several prior arrests, including one for sending violent threats via text message. He said in court that he is out of work, divorced and has no significant assets. He was provided a court-appointed lawyer.

Jewish leaders in Europe and the US have warned of increased threats of attacks against Jewish institutions. In 2015, the Senate voted to increase security funding for synagogues, day schools and other institutions under the Nonprofit Security Grant Program.

Josh Davidovich and AFP contributed to this report

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