Friends Saw Foolish Man, Not Radical Muslim
By Raquel Rutledge and Bruce Vielmetti, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (TNS)
MILWAUKEE — FBI agents say Samy Mohamed Hamzeh was a radical Muslim who wanted to make the mujahedeen proud by going on a killing spree in Milwaukee. In statements recorded by confidential informants and undercover agents, Hamzeh praised Muslims and described plans to attack a Masonic center, hoping to slay dozens of people. And he purchased machine guns to do it, according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court Tuesday.
But friends and co-workers who know the 23-year-old Hamzeh, describe him as a foolish, fun-loving man who liked to get high and put little effort into school, work or worship.
He lived on the east side and bounced from job to job — from a gas station, to waiting tables at Casablanca on East Brady Street and delivering Chinese food for William Ho’s on North Oakland Avenue. to finally working as a personal trainer at a fitness center before he was fired last week.
Rami Safi worked with Hamzeh at a Citgo station on Milwaukee’s northwest side. Safi said he could not believe Hamzeh would scheme to go on a shooting spree.
“No way, are you serious?” Safi asked when he heard Hamzeh had been arrested Tuesday. “You’re shocking me. … He was a funny guy who liked to just chill out and hang out.”
Safi met Hamzeh at the gas station a few years ago. “I never heard him talk anything about religion or trying to get into any terror organization.”
Safi said he hadn’t seen Hamzeh in several months but had lived with him in Miami for a few months before Hamzeh returned to Milwaukee where his parents live. The two had gone to Miami to look for work and hang out, Safi said.
Safi and others said Hamzeh told them he was born in the U.S. but was raised in Palestine and Jordan. Prosecutors said in court he was a U.S. citizen.
One man, who said he regularly had coffee with Hamzeh, said Hamzeh feared that the Masons worshipped Satan and were secretly trying to control the world.
“I told him ‘you are brainwashed,’ ” said the man, Sharif, who did not want his last name published out of fear for his safety. “He never looked like a violent dude. He didn’t care that much about stuff. He’s nuts.”
Hamzeh attended Milwaukee Area Technical College on and off from 2011-2014, school officials confirmed.
But he wasn’t a serious student and spent a lot of time partying, friends and co-workers said. And he could be difficult to work with, they said.
“He was stupid,” said J.J., another co-worker who waited tables with him at both Casablanca and William Ho’s, who also didn’t want his full name used out of concern for his safety. “Everything he did, he did wrong.”
J.J. said Hamzeh didn’t go to a mosque and seldom prayed.
“When he prayed, he prayed wrong. He was drunk or high,” he said.
At some point in the past six weeks, Hamzeh stopped showing up for work at William Ho’s, said a restaurant manager who did not want her name published.
Delia Luna, owner of 9Round, said that’s about when he showed up at her place.
She said Hamzeh worked there about 15 hours a week, for three weeks. “I never had a good feeling for him,” she said. Luna fired him on Jan.18, she said, after he reacted inappropriately to her concerns about how he did his job.
“He wasn’t a good fit,” she said. “Our gym is about fun and fitness and his overall personality wasn’t bringing out the fun.”
Customers had complained about his tone and personality.
Luna described Hamzeh as very intense, very militant and resistant to direction.
“It’s hard to train someone who doesn’t want to be trained,” she said.
“I’m just thankful for the FBI and that I made the right decision to let him go,” she said.
Othman Atta, the Islamic Society of Milwaukee’s executive director, said Hamzeh was not known there.
“For us, there’s very little to say, he’s not a person in our community,” Atta said.
Based on social media postings and information from other youth, it appears “this guy was a party guy and more likely to be found in a club than in a mosque,” Atta said.
“He clearly does not seem to be associated with any religious center,” Atta said.
©2016 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Photo: M60 machine gun. Greg Bishop via Flickr