FBI: Terror probe target scouted Florida building for sniper’s nest

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“I found a good spot up here for a snipers nest. Could lock everything from the square to 14th and another few blocks down,” agents quote him as saying on Facebook.

Katie PohlmanGatehouse Media Florida

Information collected by the FBI shows a 20-year-old Ocala man, who was the target of a terrorism probe for about two years, scouted a building in downtown Ocala for its potential as a sniper’s nest, practiced long-range shooting and searched online for 1,000-round packages of ammunition in the weeks leading up to his April 2017 arrest on burglary and other charges.

Assistant State Attorney Tim McCourt last week submitted a motion to introduce the information at trial. He argues that Jonathan Thomas Beese’s interest in Islam, ISIL (the Islamic State terrorist group) and terrorist attacks would help develop background and motive for his burglary charges and put other actions into context.

About a month before McCourt submitted his motion, Beese’s defense attorney Andrew Pozzuto submitted a contrasting motion arguing this information should not be admissible at trial. He said the evidence would be highly prejudicial.

No hearing date has been set on the motions.

Beese had been under FBI surveillance since mid-2015 after his mother called the Marion County Sheriff’s Office to report she found several books about Islam, index cards with various writings on them, and emails/online messages referring to ISIL in Beese’s room.

Analysis of laptops showed Beese downloaded ISIL material “aimed at Western supporters,” and researched explosives, obtaining firearms, foreign locations where ISIL had affiliates, and documents detailing how “extremists can practice operational security and carry out attacks.”

Beese was arrested in April 2017 after a traffic stop. He is locally charged with burglary of a conveyance while armed, grand theft, possession of burglary tools, conspiracy to commit burglary of a conveyance while armed, conspiracy to commit grand theft and solicitation to commit burglary of a conveyance while armed. The charges refer to him, along with his girlfriend, Kristin Michaela Sparks, 20, stealing an AK-47-style sporter rifle, a SKS-style sporter rifle and a M1 Gerand rifle from Spark’s father’s property.

In an interview with law enforcement officials the day of his arrest, Beese admitted to keeping the stolen guns in his bedroom.

No federal case has been filed against Beese.

FBI surveillance documents mainly describe Beese’s movements from home to school, to Spark’s residence, or to the mosque he frequented. And although Beese and Sparks messaged constantly over Facebook, Beese often suggested they speak about certain things in person.

Throughout March 2017, Beese researched “counter room breach,” “how to sight ak on 100 yard range,” “CNC Warrior Muzzle Device,” and “ak gas tube.”

On March 16, 2017, FBI surveillance teams followed Beese to the Ocala Public Shooting Range in the Ocala National Forest, where he was seen setting up an AK-style rifle. He fired the rifle and adjusted its sights several times. He was also seen telling another patron of the shooting range that his rifle was an older “AKM,” according to surveillance notes.

Later that day, Beese messaged Sparks saying, “I can still shoot 2 shots a second and hit something the size of your upper chest at 100 yards or 1 a second and something the size of your head. It’s been a good day.”

On March 19, 2017, Beese climbed the seven-story building known as the Ocala National Bank Building, at 108 N. Magnolia Ave. From atop the building, he sent Sparks several photos showing the view he had in different directions.

He then messaged Sparks using Facebook.

“I found a good spot up here for a snipers nest. Could lock everything from the square to 14th and another few blocks down,” he wrote.

Sparks responded with: “Oh sweet! That sounds awesome.”

Four downtown parking lots, the Marion County Judicial Center and the Brick City Café, at 10 NE 1st St., are all within a 100-yard radius of the building. The downtown square is about 150 yards away.

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