MILWAUKEE Former coworkers and friends of a man who authorities said plotted a mass shooting in Milwaukee as a way to defend Muslims said on Wednesday he appeared to be an unmotivated free spirit who never spoke of religion or such an attack.
Samy Mohamed Hamzeh, 23, was charged on Tuesday with possession of two machine guns and a silencer after he told two FBI confidential sources he planned to kill 30 people at a Masonic temple in Milwaukee, federal authorities said.
Rami Safi, 24, said Hamzeh, his former friend, never talked about Islam or plotting an attack. Safi said the pair used to go to bars, smoke Hookah and play video games together.
“He was a fun guy … never talked about anything like that,” said Safi, who said he worked with Hamzeh at a gas station a few years ago and lived with him in Miami for a few months in 2013.
Hamzeh, a U.S. citizen, was arrested on Monday after he bought two machine guns and a silencer from undercover FBI agents, authorities said.
Hamzeh enlisted the help of two people who turned out to be FBI sources to carry out an attack at the meeting place for Masons, members of a fraternal organization, an FBI special agent said in a criminal complaint.
The complaint said Hamzeh went with the sources to a gun range to practice shooting and toured a Milwaukee temple, making note of entrances and outlining an attack he told them would be “known the world over” in a conversation they recorded.
“We are Muslims, defending Muslim religion, we are on our own …,” he said, according to the complaint.
Hamzeh’s attorney could not be reached immediately for comment. A judge ordered Hamzeh held Tuesday on the charges, each of which carry a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
Hamzeh had briefly worked at 9Round, a kick-boxing fitness center in Milwaukee, but was fired earlier in January, owner Delia Luna said.
“He was on the intense side and did not interact well,” Luna said. “It’s crazy.”
A former coworker at William Ho’s, a local Chinese restaurant, said he was surprised when FBI agents came to talk to him on Tuesday about Hamzeh, whom he described as a non-religious young man without focus or goals.
“That plan was way, way bigger than him,” said J.J., who declined to give his last name.
(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Leslie Adler)