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Prosecutors say Idaho man planned a church attack to support the Islamic State : NPR

The criminal complaint against Alexander Scott Mercurio is pictured Tuesday, April 9, 2024.

Jenny Kane/AP

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Jenny Kane/AP

The criminal complaint against Alexander Scott Mercurio is pictured Tuesday, April 9, 2024.

Jenny Kane/AP

BOISE, Idaho — An 18-year-old man planned to attack churches in a northern Idaho town using a metal pipe, butane, a machete and, if he could get them, his father’s guns, according to federal prosecutors who accused him of trying to provide material support to the Islamic State group.

Authorities said Alexander Scott Mercurio adopted the Muslim faith against the wishes of his Christian parents and was in contact with FBI informants posing as supporters of the Islamic State group.

Mercurio was arrested Saturday, a day before investigators believed he planned to carry out the attack. Telephone messages left for a relative and his defense attorneys at Federal Defenders of Eastern Washington & Idaho were not immediately returned Tuesday. Mercurio did not immediately respond to an email through an inmate’s email system.

Mercurio told an informant that he intended to incapacitate his father with the pipe, handcuff him and steal his guns and a car to carry out the attack in Coeur d’Alene, according to the affidavit of an FBI agent in the case unsealed Monday in U.S. District Court. .

The weapons included rifles, handguns, and ammunition that his father kept in a locked closet, but Mercurio always planned to attack with the pipe, fire, and knives if he couldn’t get the guns, said the affidavit of FBI task force officer John Taylor II. .

If he could get the key and access the closet, Mercurio said in an audio recording he gave to the informant, “everything will be so much easier and better and I will achieve better things,” according to the release.

The recording was to accompany a photo taken by Mercurio’s informant in front of the IS flag, brandishing a knife and his index finger in a gesture commonly used by the group, according to the statement.

After attacking the church, Mercurio told the informant that he planned to attack other people in the city – as many as 21 – before being killed in an act of martyrdom, according to the statement.

Mercurio spoke with confidential informants for two years and at one point attempted to make an explosive vest to wear during the attacks, according to the release.

Mercurio told a confidential informant that he first connected with ISIS at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when schools were closed, Taylor said, and investigators later found on his school-provided laptop several files detailing ISIS’s extremist ideology. Mercurio’s parents disapproved of his beliefs, he reportedly told a confidential informant posing as an ISIS supporter, and Mercurio eventually began to worry that he was a hypocrite because he didn’t had not yet carried out an attack, according to the press release.

“I stopped asking and praying for martyrdom because I don’t want to fight and die for Allah, I just want to die and have all my problems disappear,” he wrote in a message to the informant, according to the press release.

On March 21, Mercurio again sent a direct message to the informant, saying he was agitated, frustrated and wondering how long he could continue to live “in such a humiliated and shameful state,” according to the statement.

“I have no motivation except to fight… as a period of insatiable bloodlust for the life juice of these idolaters; a thirst for mayhem and murder to terrorize those around me. I need better weapons than knives,” the direct message said. , according to the press release.

Law enforcement decided to arrest Mercurio after he sent an audio file pledging his allegiance to ISIS, according to the statement.

“Thanks to the FBI’s investigative efforts, the defendant was arrested before he could act, and he is now charged with attempting to support ISIS’s mission of terror and violence,” the attorney general wrote Merrick Garland in a press release. “The Department of Justice will continue to relentlessly pursue, disrupt, and hold accountable those who commit acts of terrorism against the people and interests of the United States.”

If convicted, Mercurio could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison. Mercurio has not yet had the opportunity to plead. He is being held in a north Idaho jail awaiting his first court appearance, scheduled for late Wednesday morning.

The Islamic State group took control of much territory in Syria and Iraq in 2014 and was largely defeated on the battlefield in 2018. However, it maintains desert hideouts in both countries and its Regional subsidiaries operate in Afghanistan, West Africa and the United States. Far East. ISIS claimed responsibility for last month’s attack on a Moscow concert hall that left 145 people dead, the deadliest attack in Russia in years.

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