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News / Northwest

Man pleads not guilty to terrorism charge in alleged church attack plan in support of Islamic State

By Associated Press
Published: April 11, 2024, 7:40am

COEUR d’ALENE, Idaho. (AP) — An 18-year-old man accused of planning to attack churches in a northern Idaho city in support of the Islamic State group has pleaded not guilty to a federal terrorism charge.

Alexander Mercurio appeared Wednesday in Idaho’s U.S. District Court and pleaded not guilty to the charge of attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terror organization, the Coeur d’Alene Press reported.

Prosecutors say he planned to use a metal pipe, butane fuel, a machete and, if he could get them, his father’s guns in the attack. Mercurio was arrested Saturday, the day before investigators believe he planned to attack people attending a church near his Coeur d’Alene home.

According to authorities, Mercurio adopted the Muslim faith against his Christian parents’ wishes and had been communicating for two years with FBI informants posing as Islamic State group supporters.

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 his plan, according to an FBI agent’s sworn statement in the case.

His father’s guns included rifles, handguns and ammunition that were locked in a closet, but Mercurio 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.

Mercurio in an audio recording he gave the informant said if he could get access to the guns, “everything will be so much easier and better and I will achieve better things,” according to the statement.

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

Mercurio told a confidential informant that he first connected with the Islamic State group during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when schools were closed, Taylor said, and investigators later found files on his school-issued laptop detailing the group’s extremist ideology.

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.

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“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 arrested Mercurio after he sent an audio file pledging his allegiance to the Islamic State group, the statement alleged.

If convicted, Mercurio could face up to 20 years in prison. His trial is set for May 28.

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. Islamic State Khorasan claimed responsibility for last month’s Moscow concert hall shooting attack that killed 145 people, the deadliest attack in Russia in years.