James Gonzalo Medina, 40, of Hollywood, appeared in court in Miami on Monday afternoon, several media outlets reported.
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 has about 800 member families and houses an early childhood center, according to its 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 U.S. 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.”
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.”
The synagogue and an affiliated school were operating as normal 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.