A Muslim man who appeared to be “acting suspicious” at the Netive Ezra synagogue in the city of Aventura, Florida was taken into custody Wednesday night by Aventura Police and the FBI on suspicion of planning a terror attack.
The man, identified as Hisham Abdallah Khasawinah, was at first pretending to be an Orthodox Jew, according to a report published by Jewish Breaking News.
However, the initial report may have been inaccurate: a separate report said Khasawinah was detained by police under a law enabling authorities to transfer an individual for evaluation at a mental health facility after displaying bizarre behavior.
Khasawinah was allegedly “acting strange, and asked peculiar questions,” a source had told the news outlet. “He wanted to join the Torah classes and said he wanted to convert to Judaism. Some congregants who found him suspicious called authorities,” the source said.
Rabbi Maoz Itshakov of the Eliyahu Hanavi Sephardic Synagogue in Hollywood, Florida was subsequently quoted by “Florida Scoop” as saying Khasawinah had begun frequenting synagogues in the area around six months earlier, saying he wanted to convert to Judaism.
Khasawinah was escorted by law enforcement away from the Aventura synagogue.
A large knife was found in his vehicle during a search. However, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security — both summoned to investigate the incident — indicated that no evidence of a hate crime or a terror threat were found, according to the report.
It is not surprising that members of the synagogue were suspicious and concerned: in 2016, a 40-year-old man from Hollywood, Florida was charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction – an explosive device – at a synagogue in Aventura, Florida. James Gonzalo Medina confessed during plea proceedings that in March and April 2016, he planned to conduct a firearms or explosives attack on the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center.
He was subsequently convicted on charges of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction against a person or property within the United States. He was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison.