The son of a Boston police captain has been arrested for allegedly plotting to attack college campuses on behalf of ISIS.
A criminal complaint charging Alexander Ciccolo, aka Ali Al Amriki, 23, of Adams, Massachusetts, with being a felon in possession of firearms was unsealed Monday by the U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI. A pretrial detention hearing is scheduled for Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. in Springfield. Ciccolo is being held in custody pending that hearing.
Officials say Ciccolo is the son of Boston Police Capt. Robert Ciccolo. Sources say Alexander has been in and out of mental health facilities since the age of 7, but when he turned 18 he refused care and went out on his own. His father reported his instability and terrorism threats to the FBI.
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According to the complaint affidavit, on July 4, Ciccolo took delivery of four firearms - including two rifles with large ammunition magazines - which he had ordered from a person who was cooperating with members of the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force. The supplier had been communicating with Ciccolo about Ciccolo's plans to engage in a terrorist act.
Ciccolo was arrested immediately after taking delivery of the firearms, which included a Colt AR-15 .223 caliber rifle, a SigArms Model SG550-1 5.56 caliber rifle, a Glock 17 9mm pistol, and a Glock 20 10 mm pistol. Ciccolo was convicted of drunken driving in February and therefore was prohibited from possessing firearms.
Prosecutors allege that Ciccolo is a supporter of ISIS and had spoken with the cooperating witness about his plans to commit acts of terrorism inspired by the terrorist organization, including setting off explosive devices, such as pressure cookers filled with black powder, nails, ball bearings and glass. He reportedly planned to set them off in places where large numbers of people congregate, such as college cafeterias. Prior to his arrest, agents also saw him purchasing a pressure cooker similar to those used in the Boston Marathon bombings.
After Ciccolo was arrested, agents searched his apartment and found several partially constructed Molotov cocktails. The incendiary devices contained what appeared to be shredded Styrofoam soaking in motor oil. Ciccolo had previously stated that this mixture would cause the fire from the exploded devices to stick to people’s skin and make it more difficult to extinguish. Agents also found two machetes and a long curved knife in his apartment.
According to court documents, the FBI became aware in the fall of 2014 that Ciccolo had expressed a desire to go overseas to fight for ISIS. A close acquaintance told the FBI that Ciccolo had a long history of mental illness and in the last 18 months had become obsessed with Islam. The acquaintance also said Ciccolo had recently said that he believed that the "faith is under attack" and that he was "not afraid to die for the cause." The acquaintance also reportedly received text messages from Ciccolo saying that America is "Satan."
In October of 2014, the FBI found a Facebook profile under the name "Ali Al Amriki" that contained information indicating that the user was interested in martyrdom for the sake of Islam and was living in the United States. Subsequent investigation identified the defendant as Ciccolo.
The FBI arranged for a cooperating witness to meet Ciccolo, who told the witness that he had a plan to engage in violence in support of ISIS. During one meeting on June 24, Ciccolo met with the witness in person and said that he would attack two different bars and a police station. He said he planned to use improvised explosive devices during the attack, including pressure cooker and portable microwave bombs. Ciccolo reportedly said:
"you put uhm, take a pressure cooker
Uhm, fill it up with ah, black powder
Yeah, you fill it up with ball bearings, nails glass, rocks ... you know."
On June 30, Ciccolo again met with the cooperating witness. During that conversation, the witness asked Ciccolo if he had heard what happened in Tunisia. Ciccolo responded:
"Awesome. Awesome, you know that ah, that brother in Tunisia was impressive ... he got like 38, 39 people ... one guy ... that is a huge accomplishment I think."
Ciccolo also reportedly told the witness he wanted to conduct an attack at a state university using assault rifles and improvised explosives. He said the attack would be concentrated in the college dorms and cafeteria and would include executions of students broadcast live via the internet.
After he was arrested, Ciccolo was taken to the Franklin County House of Correction. While meeting with a nurse for a routine medical screening, authorities say he stabbed her in the head with a pen, leaving a bloody hole in the nurse's skin and causing the pen to break in half.
Previously, Ciccolo was arrested on June 18, 2014 by state police in North Adams, Massachusetts, according to the North Berkshire District Court. He was charged with possession of an open container in a motor vehicle and carrying a dangerous weapon, but the charges were dropped on Feb. 15, 2015 at the request of the state.
The Ciccolo family released the following statement addressing Monday's arrest: “While we were saddened and disappointed to learn of our son’s intentions, we are grateful that authorities were able to prevent any loss of life or harm to others. At this time, we would ask that the public and the media recognize our grief and respect our desire for privacy.”
The investigation is being conducted by the Joint Terrorism Task Force and member agencies including the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Springfield Police, Ludlow Police, Holyoke Police, West Springfield Police, Easthampton Police, Pittsfield Police, Massachusetts State Police and Homeland Security Investigations, with assistance from Adams Police and the Massachusetts State Regional Hazardous Materials Response Team.