Lessons learned: Aventura, FL bomb plot

The FBI arrested James Gonzalo Medina (aka James Muhammad) on April 29, 2016 for attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction against persons or property within the United States. Click here for the “Lessons Learned”.

The allegations

Aventura-Turnberry Jewish Center
Aventura-Turnberry Jewish Center

According to a complaint filed with the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida at a hearing on May 2, 2016, Medina was arrested after he attempted to place what he believed to be an improvised explosive device (IED) at the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center (a large Conservative synagogue) in Aventura, Florida. The device Medina attempted to place and remotely detonate was never operable due to FBI intervention.

Medina, according to the complaint, had stated his desire to conduct an attack, saying it was to “strike back to the Jews” because “It’s a war man and it’s like it’s time to strike back here in America.”

On March 27, 2016, Medina and two associates allegedly discussed an interest in conducting an attack on a synagogue. One of the associates subsequently relayed Medina’s intentions to die in a shooting at a synagogue in Aventura to the FBI. According to the complaint, on or about April 1, 2016, Medina confirmed his desire to conduct a weapons attack using AK-47 rifles and that, if he were to conduct an attack, he would want to do it at a synagogue. Medina further explained his desire to become a martyr in the attack. When Medina was told that there was a Jewish holiday in a few weeks, Medina responded by saying that it would be a good time to attack. He also allegedly discussed hiding a bomb in the bathroom.

The complaint alleged that Medina created a flyer that contained a photo of the ISIS flag and the words “ISIS in America;” and that he made three videos, saying, “I am a Muslim and I don’t like what is going on in this world…Aventura, watch your back. ISIS is in the house;” “Today is gonna be a day where Muslims attack America. I’m going to set a bomb in Aventura;” and one saying goodbye to his family.

On the day of his arrest, Medina allegedly took possession of what he believed to be an explosive device in a parking lot in Hallandale Beach, FL. He did not know that it was inert and of no danger to the public. He was arrested upon his arrival at the synagogue.


  • The alleged activities of Medina highlight the continued interest of some US-based violent extremists in conducting terrorist activities on behalf of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)
  • The alleged activities of Medina highlight the continued interest of some US-based violent extremists in conducting terrorist activities targeting Jewish institutions. According to the complaint, Medina told an informant that his religious philosophies formed the basis for his current hatred for Jewish people and that if he would conduct an attack be would want to do it at a synagogue because Jewish people are the ones causing the world’s wars and conflicts.
  • According to the complaint, Medina was somewhat aware of the Jewish calendar and that a major Jewish holiday would occur. He planned to accomplish his bombing on the eighth day of Passover (although he thought it was Yom Kippur). Jewish institutions may be at higher risk during high occupancy events.

Lessons learned

  • If you see something, say something. Medina spent time doing pre-operational surveillance of his target. Did anyone see him parked outside and report suspicious activity. The synagogue had cameras, was anyone trained in detecting suspicious activity assigned to monitor the cameras. Did anyone conclude that the situation, “Just didn’t look right.” If you merely think that something is not right, report it.
  • Multi-layered security has advantages. Medina’s original plan was to hide the device under his jacket and plant it in the bathroom or shoot attendees with an automatic weapon. Eventually he settled on tossing a bomb into the grounds. Bottom line, he evidently perceived that the physical security measures of the synagogue would keep him out or impede his escape. Your goal should be keep a bad guy outside your premises. Once someone is in he/she can create havoc. If you haven’t had a vulnerability assessment contact your local police. You can also check out resources like FEMA’s Reference Manual to Mitigate Potential Terrorist Attacks against Buildings, New Jersey’sFacility Self-assessment Tool or California’s Protective Measures for Enhanced Facility Security.
  • Vary your security profiles. Medina planned his attack for a holiday, to maximize his effect. Assume that our adversaries know about our customs and will plan to take advantage of our openness. Ramp up your security during Shabbat and holidays using common sense measures: identify your regulars and verify those who are not. See JCRC-NY’s Sample Building Access Policies & Procedures.
  • Create security routines. Remember, Medina first planned to hide his bomb in a bathroom. Consider locking all the doors of areas not in current use and making regular checks of your building. For example, in August, 2015, bombs were placed at three churches in Los Cruces, NM. The bomber used garbage cans and mailboxes to hide the devices. Regularly scheduled security sweeps might discover suspicious or unattended packages before trouble arises.

Behaviors associated with pre-operational surveillance and testing of security

If any of the following are detected, report the activity to the appropriate authorities:

  • New or increased interest in your location, critical infrastructure locations and/or landmarks, including obtaining aerial views of these locations;
  • Discreet use of still cameras and video recorders or note-taking or use of sketching materials that would raise suspicion in a reasonable person;
  • Suspicious interest in entry points, peak days and hours of operation, security personnel, surveillance assets (including cameras), and access controls such as alarms, barriers, doors, gates, or locks;
  • Unusual attention to or avoidance of surveillance cameras; and/or
  • Suspicious observation of or unusual questions to building maintenance or security personnel about security procedures.

Suggested protective measures

Terrorists have demonstrated continued interest in attacking significant infrastructure, economic, and symbolic targets. Those responsible for building safety and security, as well as security personnel, should:

  • Consider installing closed-circuit television systems, intruder detection systems, and lighting to cover key areas;
  • Consider establishing safe areas within the facility for assembly and refuge during crises, such as active shooters;
  • Install secure locks and protection on all external and internal doors and windows with quick-release capability from within for emergency and fire escape;
  • Ensure that emergency communications equipment is present and operable and practice emergency communications plans and systems;
  • Remove objects from facilities or events which could conceal IEDs (e.g., trash containers and crates.)
  • Be vigilant of secondary devices specifically at anticipated evacuation routes (i.e., a second bomb placed near the exits); and
  • Report suspicious activity to proper authorities, to include missing or stolen weapons. In NYC, 1-888-NYC-SAFE. In NYS, 1-866 SAFE-NYS. In the event of an emergency, dial 911.