FBI Thwarts ISIS Terrorist Attack, Arrests Teenager Planning to Strike Churches

AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File

The war in Gaza has heightened fears of possible terrorist activity in the United States. Indeed, the blowback from the conflict between Israel and Hamas has already inspired terrorism in several countries, including France and the United Kingdom.


The Justice Department on Monday released a statement announcing the arrest of an 18-year-old Idaho man who is accused of planning terrorist attacks on churches as well as providing support to the Islamic State (ISIS). This development highlights the potential impact of the situation in the Middle East as federal authorities are on heightened alert for potential “lone wolf” attacks.

The affidavit filed to support the arrest alleges that Alexander Scott Mercurio “pledged his allegiance to ISIS and intended to commit attacks on its behalf” and notes that he “planned to attack individuals at churches in Coeur d’Alene on April 7 using weapons, including knives, firearms, and fire,” according to the Justice Department’s statement.

The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) conducted the investigation and thwarted Mercurio’s violent plot. Mercurio is currently in custody awaiting his initial appearance which will be set by the Court.

“As alleged in the complaint, the defendant swore an oath of loyalty to ISIS and planned to wage an attack in its name on churches in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “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. 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.”

“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,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “This investigation demonstrates the FBI’s steadfast commitment to work with our law enforcement partners to stop those who wish to commit acts of violence on behalf of – or inspired by – foreign terrorist groups.”


Mercurio is being charged with “attempting to provide material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization.” He faces up to 20 years in prison if he is convicted.

Mercurio’s arrest comes nearly six months after the Hamas’ bloody October 7 attack on Israel in which terrorists murdered 1,200 Israelis, many of whom were civilians. Later that month, Wray spoke at the International Association of Chiefs of Police and explained that “In this heightened environment, there’s no question we’re seeing an increase in reported threats, and we’ve got to be on the lookout, especially for lone actors who may take inspiration from recent events to commit violence of their own.”

In November, Wray told lawmakers that the FBI had opened “multiple investigations into individuals” linked to Hamas. He asserted that the Bureau is deeply concerned about “homegrown violent extremists.”

The criminal complaint against Mercurio notes an exchange between the suspect and an FBI “confidential human source” in which he explained his terrorist plan. “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,” he wrote.

He planned to carry out these attacks in at least 21 churches. The affidavit also notes that he helped to spread ISIS propaganda on the internet and discussed supporting the terrorist organization financially and possibly flying to West Africa to join the group.


The arrest appears to affirm the reality that terrorist groups are ramping up their efforts to radicalize and deploy "lone wolf" terrorists to wreak havoc in American communities. It underscores the need for federal agencies to remain diligent in stopping these potential attacks.


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