Plot to blow up Aventura synagogue ends with man’s arrest
By Jay Weaver
A Hollywood man accused of trying to blow up an Aventura synagogue stood in Miami federal court and gave the judge two names — one real, the other an alias.
“My name is James Medina, also known as ‘James Muhammad,’ ” Medina told Magistrate Judge William Turnoff.
James G. Medina, 40, was arrested by FBI agents on a charge of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction against the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center, 20400 NE 30th Ave., during services on Friday.
The judge set his bond hearing for Thursday and his arraignment for May 16. He also appointed the Federal Public Defender’s Office to represent him.
Federal prosecutors Marc Anton and Karen Gilbert told the judge that Medina should be detained before trial, arguing he is a danger to the community and a risk of flight. If convicted, Medina, who is being held at the Federal Detention Center, faces up to life in prison.
Anton summarized the FBI’s case for the judge, saying that in March Medina reached out to an FBI confidential source because he was interested in buying a bomb. The prosecutor said that Medina wanted to obtain the bomb and place it under a car or throw it over the wall of the synagogue.
Anton said that in late April, Medina obtained a dummy bomb from the confidential source and was subsequently arrested.
It was unclear from Monday’s hearing how the source came to know Medina and tip off the FBI. A criminal complaint, expected to be unsealed, might shed light on that issue.
Medina was portrayed as being anti-Semitic and that might have been a factor in his motivation to carry out the alleged deadly plot, according to law enforcement sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.
FBI agents learned about the imminent threat from confidential sources and were able to thwart it on Friday evening.
Rabbi Jonathan Berkun and Executive Director Elliott Karp released a statement on the synagogue’s Facebook page:
“The leadership of our congregation has been briefed by law enforcement and Jewish community security officials about this situation. They assured us 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.
“Please be assured that our security protocols are well in place, which includes close coordination with local law enforcement agencies to insure the security of our facility and the safety of our members, children, staff and visitors.”
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, praised the FBI’s arrest of Medina.
“I am deeply grateful that the FBI arrested this individual before he was allegedly able to do harm to the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center and its congregants, so many of whom are my constituents, who were observing the end of Passover,” the congresswoman said in a statement.
“I will be in contact with federal and local authorities immediately and working with them to ensure our community’s places of worship – no matter what faith – are safe for all those who worship in them. As the month of May begins and we recognize Jewish American Heritage Month, this attempted attack is a harsh reminder that there are many in our community who are motivated by bigotry and violence.”
Medina has had several brushes with the law for minor offenses. But one case sticks out for its potential similarity to the planned Aventura synagogue bombing.
In 2012, Medina was accused of texting violent threats to a Coral Springs family and their church.
Medina, charged with aggravated stalking, told a Broward Circuit Court judge at the time that he was a glass installer and a lifelong resident of South Florida.
That August, a Coral Springs police officer responded to the family's complaint about threatening texts and called Medina, who told the officer, “It's going down,” before hanging up, according to an arrest affidavit.
A temporary order of protection was issued for the family. Days later, they had received approximately 50 additional texts, police said.
One text stated, “By next week, Ima bomb ya [curse word] ... Bring him! I will buy a gun [off] the street and rampage [family member's] church,” the affidavit said. “Murder she wrote.”
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