The FBI nabbed the son of a Boston police captain on the Fourth of July, and charged him with plotting an ISIS-inspired terrorist attack after he bought two pistols and two rifles from a confidential informant working with the Western Mass. Joint Terrorism Task Force.
“The reasons why individuals across the country have been drawn toward this kind of terrorist activity are much more complex and varied than a simplistic, ‘I hope ISIS might notice me’ nor are they often a result of ‘legit contact with ISIS’ but rather ‘inspired by a jihadist ideology,’" Director of the Center for Terrorism and Security Studies at UMass Lowell James Forest said in an email.
“The reasons why this ideology may resonate and motivate the actions of a young man are often directly related to that man's view of the world and their place within it, a view that obviously is different from one man to the next.”
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According to an FBI affidavit, Alexander Ciccolo, 23, also known as Ali Al Amriki, was busted with a duffle bag filled with guns. He was banned from buying guns after a previous criminal conviction. He is said to have told the informant about wanting to commit terrorist attacks involving IEDs like pressure cooker bombs like the ones used in the 2013 Boston Marathon attack “in places where large numbers of people congregate, like college cafeterias.”
After his arrest, authorities say they found two machetes, a long curved knife and a partially made Molotov cocktail with shredded Styrofoam soaking in motor oil. According to U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz’s office, Ciccolo is an ISIS supporter and would have used the cocktail mixture to “cause the fire from the exploded device to stick to people’s skin and make it harder to put the fire out.”
On July 2, Ciccolo allegedly sent the witness the Facebook link for a bar in the state he planned to hit. The page highlighted a promotion celebrating the U.S. Supreme Court's decision upholding same-sex marriage rights.
"That is our target," he allegedly wrote. Later that same day Ciccolo cited another target as "a cafeteria at the college he had mentioned."
Prior to his arrest, agents observed Ciccolo buy a pressure cooker from the Walmart in North Adams on July 3, with the hopes of loading it up with black powder, nails, ball bearings and glass. He is said to have told the informant that he had already made 10 firebombs.
The FBI said that Ciccolo said he was inspired by the attacks at the April 2013 Boston Marathon, but Forest said that the ideologues of global jihadism celebrate innovation and ingenuity, not copycats.
The FBI affidavit said that Ciccolo hoped to fight for ISIS in Syria or Iraq. Acquaintances said he had “a long history of mental illness an” and recently become obsessed with Islam.
“These are instances of ‘Do it Yourself’ terrorism, made possible by the combination of ideologically-driven intentions, an availability of materials that can be weaponized, and a virtually unlimited number of vulnerable targets,” Forest said.
“Examples of this kind of terrorism range from Oklahoma City and the Atlanta Olympics bombings to jihadist-inspired attempts against subways in New York and D.C., commercial airliners, office buildings and much more. The strategies and tactics of DIY terrorism haven't changed much in 30 years, but there have been an increasing number of attacks or attempts linked to a specific category of violent ideology, propagated by the likes of ISIS, al Qaeda and others.”
Authorities say Ciccolo met with the informant on June 24 in Pittsfield and on June 30 in Springfield, where he talked about attacking people, military members and law enforcers in another state, including “two different bars and a police station.”
The informant said that Ciccolo wanted to "to conduct an attack at the State University in that state using assault rifles and improvised explosives." Which university is not specified. He told the witness the attack "would be concentrated in the college dorms and cafeteria, to include the executions of students which would be broadcast live via the internet."
Ciccolo was busted on July 4, carrying the guns in the bag he got from the witness near his apartment. The affidavit said he had a knife with a five-inch blade and a receipt from the pressure cooker in his wallet.
During a routine medical screening at the Franklin House of Correction following his arrest, Ciccolo "grabbed a pen and forcefully stabbed the nurse in the head, leaving a hole in the nurse's skin and causing the pen to break in half."
Ciccolo was charged with being a felon in possession of firearms, which carries a sentence of no greater than 10 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. He will be arraigned in U.S. District Court in Springfield at 3 p.m. on Tuesday.