The FBI has foiled a mass shooting targeting a Masonic temple in Milwaukee, the government said Tuesday. Milwaukee resident Samy Mohamed Hamzeh, 23, has been arrested and charged with possessing machine guns and a silencer, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Wisconsin announced.
Hamzeh had engaged in extensive conversations with two confidential sources, speaking in Arabic, explaining how he had planned to execute the attack on the temple, the bureau says.
“Samy Mohamed Hamzeh devised a detailed plan to commit a mass shooting intended to kill dozens of people. He also said that he wanted this mass shooting to be ‘known the world over’ and to ‘ignite’ broader clashes,” said acting U.S. Attorney Gregory Haanstad in a news release. “It is difficult to calculate the injury and loss of life that was prevented by concerned citizens coming forward and by the tireless efforts of the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force.”
Hamzeh had reportedly been under investigation since September 2015, and in October 2015 the investigation revealed he planned to travel to Jordan, enter the Israeli-occupied West Bank and attack Israeli soldiers and citizens living there. Later, Hamzeh abandoned those plans, focusing instead on the U.S. due to financial and logistical issues, the report went on to say.
“Thirty is excellent. If I got out, after killing 30 people, I will be happy 100 percent. . . 100 percent happy, because these 30 will terrify the world,” Hamzeh was recorded as saying, according to the report.
Hamzeh had purchased the machine guns and silencers from two individuals who were actually undercover FBI agents, resulting in his arrest Tuesday.
“I am telling you, if this hit is executed, it will be known all over the world,” Hamzeh was recorded as saying, according to the report. “The people will be scared and the operations will increase, and there will be problems all over, because more than one problem took place, and this will be the third problem, this will lead to people clashing with each other. This way we will be igniting it. I mean we are marching at the front of the war.” -------------------------------------------
Hamzeh was planning to attack the Humphrey Scottish Rite Masonic Center, a historic building on N. Van Buren St. in downtown Milwaukee that hosts weddings, conferences, meetings and other special events. The Wisconsin Scottish Rite, which purchased the building in 1912, has been in the community since 1863.
Hamzeh had scouted the Masonic center by taking a tour and spoke in detail about how the attack would occur, the complaint says. A woman in the lobby of the center Tuesday afternoon told a reporter that the staff had no comment.
Hamzeh had been under investigation by the FBI since September, which used confidential informants who secretly recorded him. Undercover FBI agents arrested him this week after he tried to buy automatic weapons from them, the complaint says.
Hamzeh originally had planned to travel to Jordan to attack Israeli soldiers and civilians in the West Bank, but ditched those plans because of logistical issues and focused on attacking a target in the U.S., according to the criminal complaint.
He hatched a plan to attack a Masonic center in Milwaukee with two others, who were actually the informants cooperating with the FBI.
Last week, Hamzeh and the informants went to a local shooting range and practiced firing a handgun. Afterward, they went to the Masonic center and got a tour of the facility. Later, Hamzeh spoke with the informants in detail about the planned attack, according to the complaint.
During this meeting, which was recorded and translated from Arabic to English, Hamzeh, according to the complaint, said they needed three automatic weapons, each with a silencer, to launch the attack.
According to the complaint:
They would enter with clothes over their heads, he said. It was important to quietly kill the receptionist, the first person they were likely to see, Hamzeh said.
"... If she was alone, it is OK, if there were two of them, shoot both of them, do not let the blood show, shoot her from the bottom, two or three shots in her stomach and let her sit on the chair and push her to the front, as if she is sleeping, did you understand?"
After killing those at the door, one attacker would remain there, Hamzeh said. "...One of us will stay at the door at the entrance and lock the door down, he will be at the main door down, two will get to the lift (elevator) up, they will enter the room, and spray everyone in the room. The one who is standing downstairs will spray anyone he finds. We will shoot them, kill them and get out."
Hamzeh said each of them would have to kill everyone around him, "to annihilate everyone, there is no one left, I mean when we go into a room, we will be killing everyone, that's it, this is our duty."
The exit plan was to leave by the stairs and out the door, quietly and calmly. "We leave, as if there is nothing, no running, no panic, just regular walking."
He predicted the attack could bring global attention, the complaint states.
"I am telling you, if this hit is executed, it will be known all over the world. Sure, all over the world, all the Mujahedeen will be talking and they will be proud of us."
Of the target, he said, according to the complaint: "They are all Masonic; they are playing with the world like a game, man, and we are like asses, we don't know what is going on, these are the ones who are fighting, these are the ones that needs to be killed, not the Shi'iat, because these are the ones who are against us, these are the ones who are making living for us like hell," he said.
"Thirty is excellent. If I got out, after killing thirty people, I will be happy 100% ... 100% happy, because these 30 will terrify the world."
Hamzeh met with undercover FBI agents on Monday. The undercover agents showed two weapons and a silencer to Hamzeh, and told him the weapons were capable of fully automatic fire, the complaint says.
Hamzeh agreed to a price and paid it to the undercover agents, who then handed Hamzeh a bag containing two automatic weapons and a silencer. Hamzeh carried the bag to his car and put the bag in the trunk of the vehicle, the complaint states. He then was arrested.
Robert J. Shields, special agent in charge of the Milwaukee FBI, said the arrest was the result of well-coordinated law enforcement work, "thwarting an attack that could have resulted in significant injury and/or loss of life."