AVENTURA, Fla. (WSVN) — The former brother-in-law of the South Florida man accused of planning to detonate an explosive device at a synagogue in Aventura weighed in on the case that has rocked the local Jewish community.
Federal officials said 40-year-old James Medina intended to bomb the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center, Friday evening, but was arrested as part of an FBI sting operation.
Jimmy Han, who is married to the sister of Medina’s ex-wife, said the entire situation feels especially strange considering how closely related the two once were. "You hear about terrorists in the news, but to be related to one and knowing one, it’s like, no way," he said.
Han said Medina started out as a great brother-in-law, but when the suspect’s business dried up and his marriage ended, he started becoming increasingly violent, leading to threats and a string of restraining orders. "I was kind of surprised but not really surprised because he threatened to shoot up my mom’s church," he said.
Prosecutors said Medina went even further last week when he plotted to bomb the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center.
In March, an FBI agent opened an investigation on Medina. Federal officials said that agent met Medina while posing as a terrorist on Friday evening, the next-to-last night of Passover.
Officials said Medina took into his hands an object he believed to be a bomb. In reality, the device was not an explosive, but officials said Medina took the action to cause serious damage. He was arrested while walking toward the house of worship.
At his court hearing, prosecutors said Medina, who used Muhammad as his last name, intended to plant the bomb under a car or throw it over a wall.
In the criminal complaint, Medina described his hatred for Jews and even revealed he had made a pre-attack video. He said, "I am a Muslim, and I don’t like what’s going on in this world. I’m going to handle business here in America. Aventura, watch your back, ISIS is in the house."
Monday morning, there was visible stepped-up security at the school on the complex, the Herman and Miriam Tauber Academy. Aventura Police officers were on hand as parents dropped off their children.
Officials from the center released a statement that read in part, "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 at us at the present time."
Han said he is surprised that his former brother-in-law would target anyone because of their religion. "I’ve never seen him where, just in general, like, [he would say anything] against black people, black people or [Hispanic] people, or anybody of any faith background," he said. "That was surprising to me. I knew he wanted to hurt us. I didn’t know he would go out and try to blow up a synagogue."
Florida Gov. Rick Scott praised the FBI for their work on this case.
As for Medina, he faces a charge of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. If convicted, he faces a possible life sentence.