FBI arrests Idaho 18-year-old for 'violent plot' to attack churches on behalf of ISIS, Justice Department says

Alexander Mercurio was planning to carry out attack in Coeur d’Alene on Sunday, according to the FBI

The FBI has arrested an 18-year-old in Idaho after uncovering his "truly horrific" and "violent plot" to attack churches in Coeur d’Alene this past weekend on behalf of ISIS, the Justice Department says. 

Alexander Mercurio is now facing a federal charge of attempting to provide material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization after the FBI says he devised a plan to "incapacitate his father, restrain him using handcuffs, and steal his firearms to use for maximum casualties" in an attack he had been planning to carry out in the northern Idaho resort city on Sunday, April 7. 

"The defendant allegedly pledged loyalty to ISIS and sought to attack people attending churches in Idaho, a truly horrific plan which was detected and thwarted by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force," FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement. 

"The Justice Department will continue to relentlessly pursue, disrupt, and hold accountable those who would commit acts of terrorism against the people and interests of the United States," added Attorney General Merrick Garland. 


Alexander Mercurio in front of ISIS flag

The FBI says Alexander Mercurio implied to a confidential human source that "in conducting the attack, he intended to perform a good deed." (FBI)

In a criminal complaint, the FBI says the investigation began when Mercurio, who is a resident of Coeur d’Alene, "reached out to confidential human sources online and indicated his support for ISIS and terrorist organizations, more generally." 

"Mercurio spread ISIS propaganda online and solicited ISIS’s involvement in and approval of his propaganda efforts, discussed traveling from the United States to join ISIS, [and] considered and planned ways to support ISIS financially," an FBI investigator wrote in the complaint. 

"His attack plan involved using flame-covered weapons, explosives, knives, a machete, a pipe and ultimately firearms," the investigator added. "His plan grew more precise as he eventually identified the specific church and date on which he planned to attack." 


Islamic State militant holds ISIS flag in a desert setting

A masked Islamic State soldier poses holding the ISIS flag in 2015. FBI investigators say Mercurio "discussed traveling from the United States to join ISIS." (Pictures from History/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The FBI investigator also said Mercurio "made a ba’yah statement, pledging his allegiance to ISIS and stating his intention to die while killing others on behalf of ISIS." 

But on Saturday afternoon, FBI agents carried out a search warrant at Mercurio’s house and took him into custody while allegedly finding items linked to the plot, including a "metal pipe," "a black Smith and Wesson fixed blade knife" and a "machete," according to the complaint. 

ISIS member raises flag

ISIS has long waged a recruitment and propaganda war online. (Reuters)

Mercurio now faces up to 20 years in federal prison if convicted on the federal charge. 

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