What would cause 34-year-old mother Lasandra Johnson to attempt to turn her red Toyota Camry into a car bomb targeting local law enforcement? She had been in trouble with the law before. Was this a way to get back at authority? Or was it related to her newfound association with a radical mosque? Given the Islamic Center of South Florida’s ties to extremism, the latter is a very likely scenario.
Shortly before 11:30 am, on Monday, March 21st, Lasandra Lavette Johnson drove a red Toyota Camry loaded with accelerants and a full tank of gas into the Pembroke Pines, Florida district substation of the Broward Sheriff’s Office (BSO). Following impact, a fire erupted from the car. According to a worker on the scene, Johnson was “engulfed in flames.” Johnson was hospitalized with burn wounds and later charged with “arson and burglary.” News reports about the attack did not mention the fact that Johnson was a devout Muslim, thus omitting a potentially crucial aspect of the story.
In May 2017, as evidenced on her social media, Johnson had gone through a major transformation. She went from being a committed Christian, posting images of Jesus on the cross, and professing her wholehearted belief in him, to being a fundamentalist Muslim, wearing the hijab (head covering), and attending mosque. Finding religion for Johnson seemed to be a way to escape from her former life of partying and drugs. Indeed, Johnson had been arrested, in May 2012, for cocaine possession, followed by a probation violation, in November 2012.
The mosque that she chose to attend was the Islamic Center of South Florida (ICOSF), based in Pompano Beach, Florida. Not surprisingly, that mosque has significant links to terror and bigotry.
Up until the beginning of 2015, ICOSF’s Pompano address was 507 NE 6th Street. The address was, at the time, and is presently owned by the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT), a group that the US Justice Department named an (unindicted) co-conspirator in the financing of millions of dollars to Hamas.
The imam of ICOSF is Hasan Sabri. Previously, Sabri taught a weekly class on Tafsir (exegesis of the Quran) at the Islamic Center of Boca Raton (ICBR), a mosque whose founders include Syed Khawer Ahmad, a web designer for Hamas, and Bassem Alhalabi, who in June 2003, was charged by the US Commerce Department with illegally shipping a $13,000 military-grade thermal imaging device to Syria. ICBR’s founding imam, Ibrahim Dremali, who made an appearance at ICOSF in August 2017, has spent time on the federal no-fly list. While Sabri was with ICBR, ICBR promoted an article on its website, titled “Why can’t the Jews and Muslims live together in peace?” which labeled Jews “people of treachery and betrayal” and “enemies.”
The ICOSF website promotes lectures and khutbas (sermons) made by Sabri. In one sermon he gave in 2000, Sabri denounced America as an enemy and threatened Muslims who accept her assistance. He stated, “Allah tells us, in the Quran, that the kuffar [unbeliever] will continue to fight Muslims… until Islam will cease to be and until Muslims are either liquidated or they have joined the Christian or the Jewish faith… [I]t is imperative upon us as Muslims belonging to the Ummah of Islam to understand exactly what’s happening to our brothers… so that we will know what the enemies of Islam are planning, and so that we will plan ourselves… [The US] is calling its people and its army and its nation to rush to the help of Muslims, but in reality… they want to mobilize Muslims and to use the vigor and the vim that Muslims can generate – to use their money and to use their souls and to use their lives – so that they will further [America’s] plans in that part of the world… [D]o not rely on the kuffar, because if you do so, you will suffer.”
ICOSF actively partners with the Muslim American Society (MAS) for a number of functions at the mosque, including activities directed at Muslim youth. MAS has, in the past, used the internet to propagate material praising Hamas and calling for the murder of Jews and violence against the West. The National Executive Director of MAS, Mazen Mokhtar, was a US-based administrator for qoqaz.net (‘Jihad in Chechnya’), an al-Qaeda recruitment and financing site, and has been quoted as calling Hamas operations “heroic” and suicide bombings “an effective method of attacking the enemy and continuing jihad.”
In January 2018, ICOSF hosted an event featuring the imam of Masjid Jamaat Al-Mumineen (MJAM), Izhar Khan. In May 2011, Khan was arrested and spent the next 20 months in a federal detention center in Miami on charges of terrorism. According to the indictment against him, “Izhar is a Pakistani Taliban sympathizer who worked with [his father Hafiz Khan] and others to collect and deliver money for the Pakistani Taliban… Izhar… provided and attempted to provide material support and resources… knowing and intending that they be used in preparation for and in carrying out… a conspiracy to murder, kidnap, and maim persons in a foreign country.”
Rasheed Ali Mahamad performs conversions to Islam and helps officiate funerals for ICOSF. He is also involved in a monthly health screening that takes place at the mosque. Mahamad may very well have performed Lasandra Johnson’s conversion. If so, it speaks volumes, given Johnson’s action at the Sheriff’s office.
Apart from his association with ICOSF, Mahamad is the Vice President of the American Muslim Association of North America (AMANA). AMANA is the brainchild of anti-Semite and Hamas supporter Sofian Zakkout. Zakkout regularly refers to Jews as “monkeys and pigs.” In February 2016, he circulated on social media a report claiming “the Holocaust was faked.” In July 2014, Zakkout organized a pro-Hamas rally in downtown Miami, where rally goers repeatedly shouted, “We are Hamas” and “Let’s go Hamas.” After the rally, Zakkout wrote, above photos from the event, “Thank God, every day we conquer the American Jews like our conquests over the Jews of Israel!” In July 2010, AMANA was condemned by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
It is ironic, given Johnson’s attack on the Broward Sheriff’s Office, that both Mahamad and Zakkout have been photographed together with Broward Sheriff Scott Israel. What is not ironic, though, is the fact that Johnson took this action, after being involved with ICOSF.
ISIS has repeatedly called upon Muslims to use their cars as weapons against non-Muslims (“Run over them without mercy”) and to commit attacks on law enforcement (“Strike their police.”) The assault on the BSO was not unlike those that have taken place in Iraq and Afghanistan targeting Americans and others.
This would not be the first time a non-Muslim convert to Islam had turned to terrorism. “Dirty Bomber” Jose Padilla, a former gang member who was converted at a similar South Florida mosque, is but one of many examples.
Johnson’s sudden transformation from ardent Christian to fanatical Muslim did not occur in a vacuum. Johnson’s connection to ICOSF must be thoroughly investigated. Members and leaders of ICOSF need to be made prime suspects in the preparation and the carrying out of this crime, and anyone who was involved in Johnson’s conversion must be viewed as an accomplice.
If indeed the mosque is found to be implicated in this offense, it should be shuttered immediately.
Beila Rabinowitz, Director of Militant Islam Monitor, contributed to this report.