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KEY WEST (CBSMiami) – Friends, families and tourists alike are reacting Wednesday to the 23-year-old who was arrested, charged with trying to use a backpack bomb on a crowded beach.
“He’s not a terrorist,” said Harlem Suarez’s ex-girlfriend Diane in an exclusive interview with CBS4. “I don’t think he’s capable of doing it.”
Suarez’s girlfriend, who did not was to show her face on camera, went as far to describe Suarez as gullible. She said Suarez would speak about ISIS or ISIL while they were together but she didn’t think much of it.
“His friends and everyone that knows him knows how he is,” she said. “He likes to talk a lot. He’s like a little kid. Everything he sees, everything you tell him, he believes it.”
Federal agents said Suarez, while living with his parents in Stock Island, planned to carry out an attack in South Florida on the Fourth of July to kill a large number of people. They said Suarez wanted to use a remote device and detonate a backpack bomb with nails at a beach in Key West.
Tourists and beachgoers told CBS4’s Peter D’Oench they were horrified by the allegations.
“It’s sad. It’s really sad that people would try and do something like that for whatever group,” said Denise Weird, a tourist from Lousivillle, Kentucky.
Another tourist who was with her from Lousiville, Ashley Howell, said “I think it’s crazy how people would think of trying to do something like this in an area and on a beach that is famous. It’s crazy.”
Word has quickly spread among his neighbors of his arrest.
“I feel bad for his mom because I know her and everything but I feel better because I know I’m going to be better without him,” said neighbor Yamirka Consuera. “He was doing all that stuff.”
No one answered the door at Suarez’s apartment when D’Oench knocked. One man was seen running out of and away from the apartment to a truck that was waiting for him.
Another unidentified family friend came out of the apartment and said Suarez “is a good person and his parents are good people.” He claimed that Suarez has been set up by the F.B.I.
According to investigators, back in May, Suarez discussed with a source testing his bomb-making capabilities outside the apartment in his garage.
In July, Suarez allegedly stopped at a Home Depot and purchased two boxes of galvanized nails and, according the criminal complaint, Suarez provided a source with the “galvanized nails, a prepaid cell phone and a backpack for use in construction of the bomb.”
Despite everything that his ex-girlfriend has heard, she believes he’s a good person.
“He’d talk about how if he won the lottery, he’d help the kids, the commercials on TV when they’d talk about different kids or families or homeless kids, he’d talk about that,” she said. “He bought my little cousins stuff at K-Mart when we used to go. He’s a good person.”
The ex-girlfriend says Suarez attended Key West High School but dropped out and was recently working at a creperie restaurant in the area.
The charges against Suarez are very serious. He’s accused of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction. Federal prosecutors say that can mean a sentence of up to life in prison if he’s convicted.
Suarez is being held in federal detention and will go before a federal magistrate on Monday.
His attorneys say they will try to see if he can be released on bond.