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The Real Story Behind the Coeur d'Alene ISIS Terrorist

Just in case you missed the news, on April 6th, 2024, an ISIS terrorist was arrested in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho by the FBI. The man had pledged allegiance to ISIS and had been in communication with other Jihadis, discussing his plans and working to send funding to mujahadeen in the Middle East using cryptocurrency.


The man planned to attack a local church with a variety of weapons including firearms, knives, and improvised explosives. He planned to kill as many people at the first church as possible, hijack a vehicle, and continue his killing spree at other churches until he chose to detonate his homemade explosive vest and become a Shahid, or martyr.


Read that intro and think about who you picture as the thwarted terrorist. Maybe a grizzled bearded man from Syria who snuck across our open border and made his way to the predominately Christian city of Coeur d’Alene to murder in the name of Islam. I have a feeling that’s what most Americans will picture when they simply read the headlines and continue scrolling on their phone.


When the news of this arrest first broke, I noticed someone posted the actual affidavit of probable cause used in the arrest of this failed terrorist. A probable cause affidavit is a statement by a law enforcement officer, in this case, a US Marshall working for the FBI, as to why they believe an arrest of an individual is justified. The affidavit starts with the arresting officer detailing his training, experience, and qualifications, and continues with the evidence and circumstances which caused him to believe, given his training and experience, that an arrest was justified. The affidavit in this case is 48 pages, so you will never see it on the news and very few people will read it, but I did, and I think the whole case raises some serious questions.

 

Let's start with the reality of the situation in this case. The “terrorist” in this arrest, was Alexander S. Mercurio, an 18-year-old white kid who lived in the suburbs. In 2021 the FBI was investigating a fundraising network that was using cryptocurrency to fund terrorist operations. During that investigation, they came across three subjects, who they named in the affidavit as Individual 1, Individual 2, and Mercurio. Individual 1 and Mercurio worked together to send cryptocurrency transfers that ultimately ended up with Individual 2, who was thought to reside in Gaza. At some point, it appeared that Individual 2 had been killed in Gaza and his account was subsequently deleted. In a simple but clever move, an FBI asset (referred to as CHS-1, or Confidential Human Source 1) opened a new account with the same name as the deceased Individual 2. Mercurio continued to communicate with this FBI asset, believing it was the same ISIS fighter he’d been talking to all along. At this point, Mercurio was 17 years old and upset with his parents and living situation.


“I’m 17 in USA. I know I try to keep secret, I’m in North Idaho very Christian and conservative parents are mad cause I’m not shaving beard and not letting pants go below ankle.”


From other messages referenced in the affidavit, it is clear that by this time Mercurio had done a lot of research and fallen into the online rabbit hole of Islamic extremism. He discussed trying to adhere to Muslim traditions and practices, but also admitted he did not feel he had the courage to be a true martyr. Mercurio later told an FBI asset that he previously “drank the Kool-aid of white supremacy” but he felt the path of radical Islam held more purpose for him.

 

The FBI asset continued communicating with Mercurio online, no doubt encouraging his beliefs and further radicalizing him.

 

In February of 2024, Mercurio met in person in Coeur d'Alene with another FBI asset, named “CHS-2” in the affidavit. CHS-2 entered Mercurio’s place of employment, greeted him in Arabic, and asked him to go to lunch. They exchanged contact information and the next day CHS-2 picked Mercurio up from a local park to talk.


Mercurio continued to communicate with both FBI assets, who he still believed to be loyal followers of ISIS.


On December 21st, 2023 Mercurio messaged CHS-1 and expressed his doubts as to his convictions.


“…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.”


The affidavit states that Mercurio told CHS-1 that he “did not know what to do from this point.”

He continued, “I know. I mean, I always consider myself at least a partial hypocrite. I COULD go outside right now and stab someone with a knife or steal my father’s weapons and get shahadah but I haven’t..”

It should be noted that nothing in the affidavit includes the responses from the FBI assets. Mercurio was clearly wavering, looking to them for guidance and undoubtedly the two assets did their best to keep Mercurio on the path towards violence, all the while building their case against him.

On February 13th, 2024 Mercurio messaged CHS-1 and said if he had the money he would create a “suit of powered armor” and “…heap massacres upon the kuffar (unbelievers) daily.”


Over the next few months Mercurio grew more and more restless and spoke of his growing bloodlust and desire to become a martyr. How much of this was influenced by the two FBI assets is not discussed in the affidavit. In late March Mercurio outlined his plan.


“The plan is basically this: lie to my dad and say I’m going on a walk, leave, walk to a park, send the bayah video (a devotion to ISIS), delete all my social media on my phone, then walk to the nearest Church. Stop close by the church, equip the weapon(s) and storm the temple, kill as many as possible before they inevitably disperse/scatter, then burn the temple to the ground and flee the scene, then move onto the next church, rinse and repeat for all 21+ churches in the town until killed.”


According to the affidavit Mercurio “discussed using a “flame sword” and/or an alternative melee weapon for the attack” along with “using an aerosol can and lighter as a tool for the destruction of the church.” CHS-1 responded to Mercurio’s message by asking him clarifying questions, seeing how much research he had done, and telling him he needed to plan more. Mercurio mentioned that he would not be using explosives and admitted he wasn't very familiar with firearms and would be trying to build his own improvised weapons.


CHS-1 continued to critique Mecurio’s plans. Mercurio, being the criminal terrorist mastermind he was, explained “…So for example, I would have to buy a lighter and small amount of kerosene, but then buy some food too and make it look like I just bought some snacks. It also can’t be too expensive, so fifty dollars worth of bizarre materials can’t be so easily hidden by a few donuts and chips…it’s a precarious situation.” Mercurio provided CHS-1 a map of nearby churches and explained that there were three to five churches within walking distance, and he would just hijack a car and drive to the other ones.


On March 27th, 2024 Mercurio met with CHS-2 to discuss his plans. Their conversation was recorded by the FBI. Mercurio said he was working on trying to build “something like a flame thrower” and more importantly that he was “considering” killing his father and acquiring his firearms. Mercurio said that his family “oppresses” him but that they “don’t give him a hard time due to the fact that he is keeping out of trouble, getting good grades, working , and keeping his worship to himself.”


CHS-2 helpfully inquired about Mercurio’s logistics and how we would travel to the different church locations. Mercurio explained that he would have to go on foot because he only had a learner's permit and it required him to drive with an adult. CHS-2 had to ask if it was necessary “due to the fact that he is moving forward with his plan”. Let me repeat that…this hardened ISIS terrorist did not want to drive to commit mass murder because it would violate the terms of his learner's permit. If that doesn’t paint a decent picture of what kind of person we are dealing with, he later contacted CHS-1 and spoke of how perhaps a flaming sword might not be practical and that he would have to make something more “sophisticated”. He had purchased lighters and hand sanitizer, stating that the hand sanitizer would burn slower and was a good substitute for kerosene.


Mercurio goes on to meet with CHS-2 and details his plans to use butane and propane canisters along with a fuse. He planned to purchase multiple fanny packs and make his own improvised explosive vest. He seemed to realize he probably didn’t have the ability to actually build fuses and said if that didn’t work, he would “simply strap them to my body, open one up then put a lighter next to it and detonate all of the cans in a chain explosion as a crude substitute for an explosive vest.”


If you’ve never handled a butane/propane canister for camp stoves it should be noted that you cannot simply “open them up”. There is a plastic cap on the top which protects a valve which you cannot open by hand.


Mercurio did consider how he was going to test his contraptions in the backyard and also mentioned the use of an aerosol can and lighter as a flamethrower. He seemed to settle on buying some kind of metal pole, dousing it in hand sanitizer, and running around hitting people with it. He again mentioned the possibility of killing his father to acquire his firearms but said he preferred not to. At this meeting, CHS-2 kindly offered Mercurio an ISIS flag, which he accepted. This flag was later found during a search of his home and will likely be a key piece of evidence showing his intentions.


Mercurio later detailed his final plan to CHS-1.


“My plan is pretty solid now: Walk into a church, and then start beating people with the “baton;” hit them first on the kneecaps and elbows. Batons aren’t meant for mass crowd attacks. I have to be slow and methodical. I will beat them only to incapacitate them, I will use my knives and machete to slit their throats and kill them. When everyone is dead or gone, I will start a few fires and chuck the gas cans at the fires to cause explosions and structural damage. Then I flee the scene and repeat until I am martyred.”


By April 3rd, 2024 Mercurio had settled on simply using a metal pipe with a rag wrapped around it. He would light the rag and run around the church hitting people in the knees and elbows and then using a knife. When the police arrived, he would try to grab one of their guns and continue his mission. Thankfully CHS-2 was available to drive Mercurio to a hardware store and help him select the perfect 24-inch threaded metal pipe. CHS-2 then drove Mercurio to a hotel where they spent the evening together. Mercurio got a death to America pep talk from CHS-2 who was helpful enough to take a photo of Mercurio posing in front of an ISIS flag (the one given to him by the other FBI asset) with his 4in Smith and Wesson knife.



ISIS flag
Mercurio with his ISIS flag

 

The next day Mercurio reached out to CHS-1 with a long message including how he really wanted to steal his father’s guns instead of using the pipe and apologized for continuing to sin. He also thanked CHS-1:

“Thank you for basically being my therapist, you know because I come to you every other day like “Ugh I hate my life and life sucks, waa waaa” and you always tell me “oh its fine”. So thank you for that. Thank you very much.” Keep in mind this is a lost and angry teenager pouring out his soul and seeking guidance from an experienced FBI asset who is doing his best to create a homegrown ISIS operative. 


By April 5th Mercurio had changed his plans. He told CHS-2 that he now planned on beating his father with a pipe, taping his legs together, and taking his guns. Unfortunately for the FBI, Mercurio was losing his nerve and coming up with excuses.


“My stress and anxiety is mounting exponentially. I really can’t mess this up, but I am basically self-sabotaging through my own behavior. I also worry deeply about you. I don’t want you getting investigated because of the time we spent together.” Thankfully CHS-2 was there to reassure him. CH-2 stated “No need to worry about me though. My affairs are all in the Hands of Allah…Focus on your niyah, (an act for the sake of God) Turn to Allah in sincerity and He will guide you to what has been decreed for you.”


Finally, on April 6th, 2024, the day before Mercurio’s planned attack, FBI agents executed a search warrant on Mercurio's residence. They seized the following items:


Located in a toolbox in Mercurio’s bedroom: Metal pipe, handcuffs, folding saw, head covering, two canisters of butane fuel, a machete, hand sanitizer, a black Smith and Wesson knife, binoculars, balaclava, two lighters, and a black and white ISIS flag.


The FBI ultimately arrested Mercurio for a violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 2339B, attempting to provide material support to ISIS, a designated terrorist organization.


I have a few problems with this case, and I think the public should too.

The first is that I would like to think the FBI had Mercurio under 24/7 physical surveillance, but I very much doubt that was the case. That means nothing was stopping Mercurio from changing his planned attack date, building the courage to kill or maim his father, taking his firearms, and actually carrying out a successful shooting. It seems the FBI managed to entrap possibly the least dangerous individual they could find, an overly dramatic kid who fantasized about building power armor and flaming swords and really believed he could run around a church kneecapping people with a pipe. With that said he had already discussed incapacitating his father and gaining access to his firearms. If something had changed and he had moved up his attack I have a feeling the FBI would not be quick to admit that they had been grooming him for over a year and carefully guiding him down the path of Islamic terrorism. Even if they did have the house under surveillance that would be little comfort to Mercurio’s father if he got murdered with a pipe so his son could go on a killing spree on the explicit guidance and instruction of the FBI.


I have to wonder, how many impressionable young men are being walked down this same path by FBI assets, and how many end up going off the script and actually hurting people? It is not uncommon for the news to mention that mass shooting suspects had been “previously contacted by the FBI”. Was that simply the FBI checking in on their pet projects and making sure things weren’t getting too out of control?

 

I also find it rather bizarre that the FBI only charged Mercurio with providing material support to a terrorist group. The FBI already had plenty of evidence of Mercurio’s support for ISIS. For over a year they observed him spreading ISIS propaganda online and they had detailed records of him sending financial support to terrorist organizations. The FBI could have continued their investigation and left Mercurio sending money to an FBI honeypot for a few years before closing the trap. Instead, they chose to further radicalize a 17-year-old and develop him from someone willing to send bitcoin overseas and spread ISIS messages over messaging apps, to someone debating whether they should kill their father and kill innocent people in his hometown for Allah.

 

As a new parent, I find it deeply disturbing that the FBI found a vulnerable, impressionable, 17-year-old kid who was rebelling against his parents and turned him into a radicalized ISIS supporter who was one day away from attempting to murder people. I can’t imagine how his parents must have felt when out of the blue the FBI comes and arrests your son as a terrorist and threatens him with 20 years in federal prison. I can imagine the anger I’d feel when I found out the FBI had been guiding him on this path for over a year.


Mercurio was clearly lost and looking for direction in life, he mentioned trying white supremacy and finding it didn’t suit him and that Islam was more fitting. He had immersed himself in radical Islam and ISIS propaganda but had never visited an actual mosque or spoken with an Imam. I imagine there are thousands of young kids across America who are equally lost, angry, and searching for answers and fulfillment. How many of them fall into this same scheme? The FBI can pat themselves on the back for catching a big bad terrorist and they can enjoy some rare good press and public relations, but is this the best use for their resources?


Imagine if the FBI had sent agents to speak with Mercurio and his parents when they first discovered his online activity. They could make it clear they knew what he was doing and could lock him away for life, and then get the parents and some professional help to actually talk to this kid and get to the root of his issues. I can’t help but think that getting his family and his community involved, while also closely monitoring him could have been a better option than developing him into a homegrown ISIS fighter. I can only imagine now if he gets locked up in a federal prison with real Islamic terrorists, he is going to get out in 10-20 years with a grown, mature, deep hatred for America, along with the knowledge of a man planning for 20 years instead of a boy dreaming of flaming swords.


I’m not going to use this incident to fear-monger about how you need CCW training to protect yourself from ISIS terrorists in your hometown, I think for this kid a fire extinguisher and a stern voice would have been sufficient. As a community member, church member, or parent, I think it is a good reminder to be involved in kid’s lives and make sure they feel comfortable communicating their struggles and working towards solutions instead of turning to the internet.


The real lesson here is one of critical thinking and looking beyond headlines.


Don’t believe everything you read out there folks, and stay safe!

 

I’ve included a link below to the affidavit. I encourage you to read it in full and see just how much the headlines gloss over.


 

 

 

 

 

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