A man accused of planning a massacre at a Milwaukee Masonic temple was reportedly placed on suicide watch Wednesday at the jail where he is being held.
Samy Mohammed Hamzeh, 23, was charged with unlawfully possessing a machine gun and receiving and possessing improperly registered firearms in what authorities say was a planned mass shooting at the temple. Hamzeh made a court appearance Tuesday and told the judges the charges against him are untrue, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which obtained an audio recording of the hearing and posited it on its website.
Hamzeh was originally being held at the Waukesha County Jail before being moved to the Kenosha County Jail. A source told WITI-TV Wednesday Hamzeh was placed on suicide watch after making threats to himself and to staff members at the jail. Hamzeh’s next hearing is scheduled for Feb. 9.
Hamzeh is accused to kill at least 30 people at an unidentified Milwaukee Masonic temple. However, the FBI told the Valley of Milwaukee the Humphrey Scottish Rite Masonic Center in downtown Milwaukee was the target for the massacre. That location, he said, had been used for banquets and wedding receptions, but has been restricted since last year to Masonic functions.
The federal criminal complaint does not make clear whether Hamzeh or informants recommended the Masonic center as the target. But Hamzeh told informants: “They are all Masonic; they are playing with the world like a game, man, and … we don’t know what’s going on, these are the ones who are fighting, these are the ones that needs to be killed.” He said later, “these are the ones who are making living for us like hell.”
WITI-TV reported authorities had no real indication the threat Hamzeh posed before his arrest. The Fox affiliate reported he lived in a one-room apartment in Milwaukee and worked at a local restaurant, though he never gave notice he was vacating the apartment, his last landlord told the station.
His most recent employer was a kickboxing studio in Milwaukee. His ex-boss told WITI-TV Hamzeh was too “military like” towards the clients he was training. Hamzeh’s criminal record only shows traffic citations and he didn’t have a criminal record in the short time he lived in Florida.
Wisconsin’s top federal defender, Daniel Stiller, told The Associated Press in an email that Hamzeh’s defense is likely to focus on the accuracy of undercover recordings that were made in Arabic and translated to English. He also said the defense will examine what the informant was “contributing” to the conversations.
Defense lawyers in other federal stings have challenged the operations on the basis that their clients were entrapped and suggested that agents are taking advantage of misguided thoughts or mental illnesses and effectively grooming clients into plotting acts of terror.
Hamzeh hasn’t been asked to enter a plea, but told U.S. Magistrate Judge David Jones he read and understood the complaint against him and he doesn’t agree with it. In the recording posted by the Journal Sentinel, when Hamzeh was asked whether he understood he was facing decades behind bars if convicted, he replied, “Yes I understand, but this is not true, sir.”
No media was in court because the case had been sealed until the hearing, according to the Associated Press.
Hamzeh was arrested Monday, after he paid two undercover FBI agents for two automatic machine guns and a silencer and put them in the trunk of his car.
Masons are members of a fraternal organization that carries out a variety of activities, including charity work. Wisconsin has nearly 11,000 Masons in 180 lodges, according to Frank Struble, grand master of Free and Accepted Masons in Wisconsin.
But they were the target of Hamzeh’s attack, according to federal authorities.
“We are Muslims, defending Muslim religion,” he said, according to the criminal complaint. “We have our own group, not with Hamas … we are here defending Islam, young people together join to defend Islam, that’s it, that is what our intention is.”
Jawad Jawad, a delivery driver for a Milwaukee restaurant, said he has known Hamzeh for about two years and that Hamzeh had been fired from two jobs where they worked together.
“He smoked weed all the time. He’s crazy. He didn’t show up” for work, the 32-year-old Jawad said. “He’s just a stupid kid, super stupid.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.