Idaho teen arrested and accused of planning to kill churchgoers in the name of ISIS

Alexander Scott Mercurio, 18, was arrested in the early hours of Saturday, a day before prosecutors say he planned to carry out his attack.

Josh Noel/Chicago Tribune / Tribune News Service via Getty Images

An Idaho teenager was arrested and accused of planning to kill churchgoers during services across his hometown in the name of the Islamic State group, NBC News reports after authorities released the information.

Alexander Scott Mercurio, 18, from Coeur d’Alene, was arrested in the early hours of Saturday as part of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force investigation, a day before prosecutors say he planned to carry out his attack.

He is accused of "attempting to provide material support and resources to ISIS," according to a federal criminal complaint filed in Idaho on Monday.

The FBI said he was actively planning to attack churches Sunday in Coeur d'Alene, a town 30 miles east of Spokane, using "weapons, including knives, firearms, and fire," a statement said. The attack was timed to coincide with the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, investigators said.

According to a direct message sent to an FBI "confidential human source," quoted in a lengthy affidavit attached to the criminal complaint, Mercurio set out his plan in detail.

"Stop close by the church, equip the weapon(s) and storm the temple, kill as many people as possible before they inevitably disperse/scatter, then burn the temple to the ground and flee the scene," Mercurio allegedly wrote. He said he would then repeat this for all 21 churches in the town, according to prosecutors.

Mercurio will face up to 20 years in federal prison in the event of a successful conviction. A court date has not been set. NBC News could not immediately identify an attorney for Mercurio.

As part of the investigation, prosecutors said, FBI sources met with Mercurio in person and heard him express support for ISIS and outline his plan to incapacitate his father with a metal pipe and restrain him, then take his firearms and attack a local church.

“His plan grew more precise as he eventually identified the church and date on which he planned to attack," the affidavit said, adding that he had pledged his allegiance to ISIS and said he was prepared to die while killing others on its behalf.

Law enforcement officers found an ISIS flag, butane canisters, lighters, handcuffs, a knife, a pipe and a machete at his house during his arrest, as well as several firearms belonging to his father which he allegedly planned to take.

Mercurio also spread ISIS propaganda online and discussed ways to support the group financially as well as traveling to west Africa to help its operations there, the affidavit said.

The FBI said it became aware of Mercurio during an investigation into a fundraising network that uses cryptocurrency and other platforms to support ISIS in Syria and its Afghan affiliate ISIS Wilayat Khorasan, known as ISIS-K.

That investigation found that Mercurio and at least three other suspects who were not identified in the documents were financially supporting someone only referred to as "Individual 2" in Gaza, the Palestinian enclave that has faced widespread destruction from six months of the Israel-Hamas war.

According to the FBI's testimony, Mercurio was in an encrypted group chat group with fellow ISIS supporters. Investigators also found on his school-issued laptop documents relating to ISIS ideology but also far-right terrorists such as mass murderer Anders Breivik.

Mercurio told a second "confidential human source" sent by the FBI that his parents were not fond of his "deen," meaning "the path" and a reference to his Islamic faith and customs, prosecutors said.

In a direct message conversation with this source, Mercurio allegedly said: "I am a hypocrite who has not even spat in the face of a kafir [non-believer] or donated a single penny in the cause of Allah, let alone spilled their blood and induced terror into their hearts and minds."

"Thanks to the investigative efforts of the FBI, the defendant was taken into custody before he could act, and he is now charged with attempting to support ISIS’s mission of terror and violence," Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in a statement.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said Mercurio had formed a "truly horrific plan."

"This case should be an eye-opener to the dangers of self-radicalization, which is a real threat to our communities," Special Agent in Charge Shohini Sinha of the Salt Lake City FBI said in the statement.

In December another 18-year-old, Humzah Mashkoor from near Denver, was charged with providing support to ISIS after allegedly planning to travel to the Middle East to become a fighter for the terrorist group.

Read the full story on here.

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