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

The criminal complaint against Alexander Scott Mercurio is photographed on Tuesday, April 9, 2024.
Jenny Kane
The criminal complaint against Alexander Scott Mercurio is photographed on Tuesday, April 9, 2024.

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

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

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

Mercurio told one informant 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 an FBI agent's sworn statement in the case unsealed Monday in U.S. District Court.

The guns included rifles, handguns and ammunition his father kept in a locked closet, but Mercurio still planned to attack with the pipe, fire and knives if he couldn't get the firearms, alleged the sworn statement by 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 the informant, "everything will be so much easier and better and I will achieve better things," according to the statement.

The recording was to accompany a photo the informant took of Mercurio in front of the IS flag holding up a knife and his index finger in a gesture commonly used by the group, the statement alleged.

After attacking the church, Mercurio told the informant he planned to attack others in town — as many as 21 — before being killed in an act of martyrdom, according to the statement.

Mercurio talked with confidential informants over a two-year span and at one point tried to build an explosive vest to wear during the attacks, the statement alleged.

Mercurio told a confidential informant that he first connected with IS during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when schools were closed, Taylor said, and investigators later found several files on his school-issued laptop detailing IS's extremist ideology. Mercurio's parents disapproved of his beliefs, he allegedly told a confidential informant posing as an IS supporter, and Mercurio eventually began to worry that he was a hypocrite for not yet carrying out an attack, according to the statement.

"I've stopped asking and praying for martyrdom because I don't feel like I want to fight and die for the sake of Allah, I just want to die and have all my problems go away," he wrote in a message to the informant, according to the statement.

On March 21, Mercurio sent a direct message to the informant again, saying he was restless, frustrated and wondered how long he could keep living "in such a humiliated and shameful state," the statement alleged.

"I have motivation for nothing but fighting ... like some time of insatiable bloodlust for the life juice of these idolators; a craving for mayhem and murder to terrorize those around me. I need some better weapons than knives," the direct message said, according to the statement.

Law enforcement moved to arrest Mercurio after he sent an audio file pledging his allegiance to the IS, the statement alleged.

"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 wrote in a press release. "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."

If convicted, Mercurio could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison. Mercurio has not yet had an opportunity to enter a plea. He is being held in a northern Idaho jail while he awaits his first court appearance, scheduled for late Wednesday morning.

The Islamic State group took control of a large swath of territory in Syria and Iraq in 2014 and had been largely defeated on the battlefield by 2018. However, it maintains desert hideouts in both countries and its regional affiliates operate in Afghanistan, West Africa and the Far East. IS claimed responsibility for last month's Moscow concert hall attack that killed 145 people, the most deadly attack in Russia in years.

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The Associated Press
[Copyright 2024 NPR]