While living in Jordan, the Syria-born Mustafa Alowemer applied for and received U.S. refugee status when he was 17. In August 2016, Alowemer entered the United States and settled in Pittsburgh, Pa.
But undiscovered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services security vetting in Jordan was the fact that Alowemer apparently consorted with Islamist “mujahadeen”, and Jordanian authorities had detained him three times for doing so.
FBI investigation much later inside the United States turned up communications that Alowemer at the time believed were private with active-duty ISIS operatives fighting in the war zone. In one of these conversations, Alowemer boasted:
“I was raised in Jordan on loving the Jihad and the Mujahdeen [sic]. I met some Jordanian brothers, some of which did the Nafir [traveling to conduct jihad] in Raqqah [the self-proclaimed capital of the ISIS caliphate], and I, alongside some brothers, were [sic] arrested three times in Jordan, because I was one of the supporters.”
Instead of a potential denial that would have left him in Jordan, Alowemer received refugee status and allegedly went on three years later to plot what he believed was going to be a bombing of the Legacy International Worship Center church in Pittsburgh. The FBI had answered his call for help and set up a sting operation. Alowemer thought he was plotting online and in person with fellow ISIS sympathizers and bought six boxes of nails for shrapnel in a bomb he was going to hide in a backpack and detonate by remote control. Investigators said he wanted to hide a second bomb, timed to go off just as Pittsburgh police and first responders arrived at the scene.
In the FBI’s criminal complaint, Alowemer is quoted as saying, "After two hours, three hours when the police want to come – then when they've all come together. They'll have to lock down the whole of Pittsburgh."
The complaint said that Alowemer wanted to leave an ISIS flag to claim credit and a sign saying, "We've arrived."
Prosecutors charged Alowemer with providing material support to a terrorist organization and disseminating bomb-making instructions. He was proclaiming his innocence as of August 2021, when the prosecution was still in progress.