18-Year-Old Arrested Over Alleged Plan to Attack Idaho Churches in Name of ISIS

Wim De Gent
By Wim De Gent
April 9, 2024US News
18-Year-Old Arrested Over Alleged Plan to Attack Idaho Churches in Name of ISIS
The criminal complaint against Alexander Scott Mercurio is photographed on April 9, 2024. (Jenny Kane/AP Photo)

A young man from Idaho was arrested on April 6 for planning to attack churches in Idaho on behalf of ISIS, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) said in a statement.

According to court documents, 18-year-old Alexander Scott Mercurio of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, pledged his allegiance to the Islamist terror group ISIS, proclaiming to kill “as many as possible” at churches in Coeur d’Alene.

According to the affidavit, Mr. Mercurio had planned to commit the attacks on Sunday, April 7.

The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) conducted the investigation and successfully thwarted the violent plot.

“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 Garland 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.”

Mr. Mercurio first appeared on the FBI’s radar when he expressed his support for ISIS and other terrorist groups online. An undercover FBI asset engaged Mr. Mercurio online and managed to arrange a meeting in person, court documents show.

During the meeting, Mr. Mercurio expressed his support for various Islamic terrorist organizations—ISIS in particular—and shared how he participated in spreading ISIS propaganda online.

He said he had considered leaving the United States to join ISIS and discussed with the FBI agent potential ways to support ISIS financially.

Mr. Mercurio then shared his plans to assault his father with a metal pipe in order to acquire his firearms, which he would then use to attack a local church.

The plan grew more concrete as time went by. In the beginning of 2024, Mr. Mercurio had conceived the idea of carrying out a suicide attack at churches in Coeur d’Alene, using explosives, a homemade flamethrower, knives, and firearms to target as many “unbelievers” as possible.

According to the FBI, Mr. Mercurio made several purchases to execute his plans, including butane canisters, knives, and a machete.

As his plan grew more precise, Mr. Mercurio eventually specified the date—April 7, before the end of Ramadan—and the location where the attack would begin. He discussed going from church to church “until I am martyred.”

He also perfected his plan to incapacitate his father, restrain him with handcuffs, and steal his firearms.

Consistent with an earlier promise, the aspiring terrorist pledged his allegiance to ISIS the day before the attack, announcing his intention to die in a terror attack on behalf of ISIS.

The FBI was able to apprehend Mr. Mercurio before he had a chance to harm his father.

Bloodlust and Self-Radicalization

The communications documented by the FBI speak volumes to Mr. Mercurio’s extremism.

In early March, Mr. Mercurio argued that it was not sufficient to “slaughter the unbelievers” but that one should want to be “infamous” among them and “take satisfaction in essentially being a criminal celebrity, much like the serial killers and the particularly depraved convicts of society.”

A few weeks later, on March 21, he told another FBI asset: “I have motivation for nothing but fighting … like some kind of insatiable bloodlust for the life juice of these idolaters; a craving for mayhem and murder to terrorize those around me.”

He added that if he had stronger weapons, it would allow him to also attack police units.

“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 a statement.

U.S. Attorney Josh Hurwit said local law enforcement support had been integral to thwarting Mr. Mercurio’s plans. The DOJ said the FBI is investigating further leads in cooperation with the Coeur d’Alene Police Department, the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office, and the Ada County Sheriff’s Office.

“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,” Mr. Sinha said.

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