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Philadelphia Teenager Arrested in Terror Plot

FILE - The FBI building headquarters is seen in Washington, Aug. 13, 2022.
FILE - The FBI building headquarters is seen in Washington, Aug. 13, 2022.

Authorities say they rushed to arrest a 17-year-old boy, alleging he was preparing to build bombs and select targets after being in touch with an al-Qaida affiliate in Syria.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner announced the arrest Monday, calling details of the threat “deeply disturbing.”

An FBI SWAT team was sent to the teenager’s home in West Philadelphia Friday morning after investigators found evidence that he had access to firearms and had been purchasing materials, including chemical and wires, commonly used in making improvised explosive devices.

The suspect, who is not being named since he is currently charged as a juvenile, “presented a grave danger to everyone — himself, his family, the block where he lived and, frankly, people everywhere in Philadelphia and potentially people around the country,” Krasner told reporters in Philadelphia.

FBI Special Agent in Charge Jacqueline Maguire said the suspect first came to the attention of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force as a result of his Instagram social media communications with Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad (KTJ), an al-Qaida affiliate that operates out of parts of Syria.

Some of the messages indicated the suspect was interested in leaving the United States to join the terror group. But officials said other messages include instructions for how to make improvised explosive devices.

Maguire said concern rose quickly after surveillance teams saw the suspect purchase materials to make the bombs last week, including chemicals, wiring and devices that could be used as detonators.

Maguire said agents also found the suspect had access to “quite a significant number of firearms.”

In addition, work by other U.S. agencies found that there had been at least 14 international shipments of military and tactical gear to the suspect’s home.

“This was now a situation where we believed public safety was at risk,” Maguire said. “Knowing that he was purchasing these components, these materials, and knowing what he had accumulated … he could build a viable device.”

Maguire said it appears the suspect was in the early stages of choosing potential targets, and that some appeared to be outside of the Philadelphia region. But she also said that while the investigation is ongoing there is no longer a threat to the public.

Despite the concern, Maguire said the suspect “was cooperative” with the SWAT team sent to his residence to make the arrest.

For now, the state of Pennsylvania is charging him on counts related to weapons of mass destruction, criminal conspiracy, arson, causing or risking catastrophe and reckless endangerment, among others.

In addition to the alleged communication with KTJ, FBI agents also found the suspect posted images of a Chechnya-based terror group and the Islamic State terror group’s banner on a WhatsApp account.

The District Attorney’s office said given the seriousness of the charges, it is seeking to have the suspect tried as an adult.

Officials also said the suspect could face additional charges from the federal government.