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On the Fourth of July, FBI Disrupted ISIS-Inspired Terrorism Plot It Helped Manufacture

Screen shot 2015-07-13 at 3.57.46 PMAs the Fourth of July approached, media in the United States widely reported terrorism attacks inspired by the Islamic State were possible. The FBI and Homeland Security Department had distributed a routine bulletin to law enforcement agencies warning officers to stay alert. However, there were no terrorism attacks targeting Americans on Independence Day.

The only risk of terrorism came from an FBI sting operation, which agents conveniently “disrupted” on July 4. It involved a mentally ill son of a Boston police captain.

Alexander Ciccolo, a twenty-three year-old who also apparently went by the name of Ali Al-Amriki, was arrested while carrying four firearms. He was previously convicted of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of liquor so Ciccolo was prohibited from possessing these weapons and charged with a felony.

An FBI informant delivered Ciccolo two handguns and two rifles to Ciccolo in Adams, Massachusetts on July 4. A Joint Terrorism Task Force unit arrested Ciccolo immediately after Ciccolo walked away with the firearms in a duffel bag.

In a memo [PDF] filed by the government requesting he remain in pretrial detention, US Attorney Carmen Ortiz states JTTF agents found partially constructed “Molotov cocktails” with “styrofoam soaking in motor oil.” Ciccolo allegedly intended to use the firearms and “Molotov cocktails” to “commit acts of terrorism.”

Yet, Ciccolo did not plan to conduct any sort of attack on the Fourth of July, according to documents filed against him. He allegedly wanted to do whatever he wanted to “before Ramadan was over, and no later than July 31.”

Last week, FBI Director James Comey claimed to have arrested multiple individuals involved in July 4 terrorism plots. Comey noted “some might not be charged with terrorism-related crimes.”

Is it a July 4 terrorism plot if the terrorism suspect did not have plans timed for the Fourth of July? And, if this is part of what fueled widespread fear spread by the media, what does that say about the FBI?

Once again, the public has an example of the FBI targeting and manipulating a mentally ill man. Ciccolo was not planning any acts of terrorism until the government became involved in targeting him.

From the detention memo filed against Ciccolo:

In the Fall of 2014, the FBI became aware that the defendant had expressed a desire to go overseas to fight for ISIL, a foreign terrorist organization. According to a close acquaintance, the defendant had a long history of mental illness and in the last 18 months had become obsessed with Islam. The acquaintance also said that the defendant had recently stated that he believed that the “faith is under attack” and that he is “not afraid to die for the cause.” The acquaintance advised that the acquaintance had received text messages from the defendant indicating that America is “Satan” and characterizing Americans as disgusting.

The person who tipped off the FBI was Ciccolo’s father, Captain Robert Ciccolo of the Boston Police Department. His father had been estranged from Ciccolo for some time. He told agents his son “was going off the deep end” and “spouting extremist jihadist sympathies.”

The FBI examined messages on Facebook posted under the name Ali Al Amriki. They apparently indicated to the FBI that Ciccolo wanted to go join and fight with the Islamic State. They showed he was “interested in martyrdom for the sake of Islam.” But, remarkably, it was not until months after Ciccolo was arrested and convicted of a felony for driving under the influence of alcohol that he became the target of a terrorism sting.

On June 24, a “cooperating witness” or informant met Ciccolo in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Ciccolo allegedy described plans to “travel to another state to conduct terrorist attacks on civilians, members of the U.S. military and law enforcement personnel.” He allegedly talked about attacking two bars, a police stations and said he would use pressure cooker bombs.

The same informant met with Ciccolo on June 30. Ciccolo allegedly told the informant he would need four AK-47s, two sniper rifles, four handguns, and a gelignite (“blasting gelatin”). Ciccolo allegedly talked about wanting to attack students at a university and would “execute students” during live broadcasts on the internet. He allegedly wanted to use pressure cookers and referenced the Boston Marathon bombing. Ciccolo claimed to know how to build the bombs.

On July 2, the informant agreed to help Ciccolo get firearms. The informant did not think it would be easy to get AK-47s for Ciccolo but would still try.

The FBI JTTF allegedly observed Ciccolo purchasing a pressure cooker from Wal-Mart on July 3. The same day he allegedly told the informant he now had “ten firebombs.”

The following day Ciccolo was arrested by the FBI JTTF, and the FBI executed a search warrant and raided his apartment.

There is nothing in the documents to indicate why the FBI chose to set Ciccolo up on a firearms possession charge instead of trying to get him to detonate fake explosives, as has been done in countless other FBI terrorism stings. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that Ciccolo’s father is a captain in the Boston Police Department.

Ciccolo allegedly grabbed a pen and stabbed a nurse at the Franklin County House of Correction in her head when he was being processed. Clearly, he suffers from severe mental illness.

Putting Ciccolo through the FBI’s terrorism factory was not the appropriate solution to addressing Ciccolo’s problems. He needed a community intervention, where mental health services were provided and there was an opportunity for counseling to talk about why it would not be a good idea to join the Islamic State.

This approach is what is being tried with several young men in Minnesota to become foreign fighters. It would have been a service that Ciccolo’s father could hope might save his son from going down a path where agents led him to plot domestic terrorism.

Now, Ciccolo faces up to ten years in prison. Prosecutors are certainly going to try and pursue terrorism enhancements against him, which will increase his sentence. He will not receive the mental health treatment he needs in prison, and when released from jail, he is likely to still suffer from many of the same problems he had before the FBI targeted him.

But at least the FBI can tell Americans it stopped someone from killing people on the Fourth of July. Even if extremely disingenuous and misleading, that’s a true statement.

Image is a screen shot of a photo from an FBI government publication, and as such is in the public domain.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."