MIAMI — No evidence has surfaced of links to foreign extremists in an alleged plot by a Honduran man to bomb a Florida mall despite his claimed allegiance to the Islamic State group, an FBI agent testified Thursday.
Agent David Clancy said at a bail hearing that Vicente Adolfo Solano appears to have come up with the idea on his own before sharing the plan with an acquaintance who turned out to be an FBI informant. Under close surveillance, the two of them then began plotting to bomb the busy food court at the Miami-area Dolphin Mall.
“Mr. Solano indicated throughout the (FBI) recordings that the plans were his alone,” Clancy testified. “He was pretty much always on his own.”
Solano, 53, was arrested last Friday after accepting a fake bomb from undercover FBI operatives outside the mall. Clancy said Solano had already set a 40-minute timer he thought would give him enough time to plant the device and escape undetected.
Solano was denied release on bail by U.S. Magistrate Judge Chris McAliley, who noted there is strong evidence against him, including numerous video and audio recordings and his own confession after arrest. He also faces a potential life prison sentence if convicted.
“The evidence is compelling that you intended to kill many people,” the judge said.
Solano, who is scheduled to enter a plea in early November, said nothing during the hearing. Immigration officials say he arrived from Honduras in the late 1990s and is in the U.S. legally under the temporary protected status program.
His attorney, public defender Alex Arteaga-Gomez, said Solano has no violent criminal history and has generally kept to himself while in the U.S., working as a painter. He said Solano has not traveled overseas in at least a decade and owns no weapons.
“He’s lived a working class life,” Arteaga-Gomez said.
According to the FBI, the first evidence that Solano had become sympathetic with the Islamic State was in March when he changed his Facebook profile name to “Abad Solano” and wrote, “I am Abad, son of Allah. May our black flag live on and we continue our battle.”
However, Clancy said there is no indication that Solano ever converted to Islam and while under surveillance was never seen going to any house of worship.
“I’m not aware of any religious affiliation,” the agent testified.
Solano also made three anti-U.S., pro-Islamic State videos, wearing a black mask and standing in front of the black flag associated with the group. Those videos were sent to the FBI confidential informant, and investigators found the flag during a search of Solano’s apartment. Agents also found sketches of the mall food court and evidence that he had done research on the Islamic State and its leaders.
Initially, Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Gilbert said Solano wanted to bomb the mall on the busy “Black Friday” November shopping day after Thanksgiving. Later, Solano told the informant the timing didn’t matter as long as the building was crowded.
“He wanted to kill as many people as he could at the food court on a crowded Friday night,” Gilbert said.
Clancy also provided a few more details about the informant, who he said Solano has known for about six years. The informant served about four years in prison after he was convicted of posing as a police officer and had previously done undercover work for the Drug Enforcement Administration.
It was the informant who went to the FBI after Solano began discussing his hatred of the U.S. and its policies around the time of the 2016 presidential election, Clancy said.
“It was a conversation that built over time. The conversations became increasingly more serious and frequent,” the agent testified.
Follow Curt Anderson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Miamicurt