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Feds Arrest Would-Be Solo Terrorist One Day Before Planned Attack on Church

FBI informants posed as Islamic State (IS) supporters and thwarted a planned attack on churches in Boise, Idaho.

Authorities arrested 18-year-old Alexander Mercurio on Saturday, believing he was about to act on plans he had made to murder “as many people as he could before dying through suicide or an encounter with law enforcement,” The Washington Post reported. Federal authorities charged him with attempting to provide material support to the IS terrorist group.

Mercurio allegedly told a man he believed to be an IS supporter that he planned to debilitate churchgoers with a lead pipe before using a knife to take their life. He also said he would try to steal his father’s firearms. He also planned to use butane cannisters for small explosions and to set fires. The man he told his plan to was an FBI informant.

“His plan grew more precise as he eventually identified the specific church and date on which he planned to attack,” FBI Task Force Officer John J. Taylor II said in the affidavit filed with the criminal complaint against Mercurio. Noting he wanted to act before the end of Ramadan, the affidavit continued, “As the date drew near, Mercurio devised a plan to incapacitate his father, restrain him using handcuffs, and steal his firearms to use for maximum casualties in his attack.”

Mercurio told the informant that he first connected with IS when schools closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. The FBI became aware of him approximately two years ago when they were investigating a ring of people suspected of raising money for IS.

“This case should be an eye-opener to the dangers of self-radicalization, which is a real threat to our communities,” said Special Agent in Charge Shohini Sinha of the Salt Lake City FBI in a press release. “Protecting the American people from terrorism remains the FBI’s number one priority, and we continue to encourage the public to report anything suspicious to the FBI or your local law enforcement.”

Mercurio faces a prison sentence of up to 20 years. He is scheduled to appear in court on 10 April. (United States v. Alexander Scott Mercurio, U.S. District Court for Idaho, No. 24-mj-00091-DKG, 2024)

A recent package of articles from Security Management covered many related issues, including leaderless resistance models of terrorism, what intel to look for to spot extremism, and how to redefine counterterrorism priorities, among other topics.