Alexander Ciccolo: Adams man's path divided between peace and violence
Photo Gallery | Alleged Terrorist Alexander Ciccolo
PITTSFIELD — In July and August 2012, Alexander "Alex" Ciccolo joined others in a peace walk around Lake Ontario, organized by the Grafton Peace Pagoda, located off Route 2 in Petersburgh, N.Y.
The walks, according to the pagoda, are rooted in and inspired by peaceful social movements practiced by Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.
"Alex walked with us in that spirit of non-violence," read part of a July 14 statement published by the pagoda on its website. Pagoda leaders said they've had no contact with Ciccolo since 2012.
Less than two years later, on July 4, the Adams man was arrested by federal officials on a weapons change, and interrogated about his support for the Islamic State terror group.
"(The Islamic State) kills enemies, they kill oppressors," Ciccolo said during the 102-minute FBI interview. "What I'm saying is (the Islamic State) will only kill people who fight them."
Such a statement might seem uncharacteristic for a young man who had traveled between the Berkshires and Canada holding signs for peace.
But as more details are disclosed about Ciccolo's history and behaviors, a troubled tale emerges.
A young man, disrupted
Ciccolo's recent arrest was the latest in a string of municipal arrests on lesser charges since July 2012, including disturbing the peace, resisting arrest, being in possession of a dangerous weapon and operating a motor vehicle under the influence of liquor.
Ciccolo, 23, is the estranged son of veteran Boston Police Capt. Robert Ciccolo, and it was the father who first alerted authorities in the fall of 2014 regarding his son's stated desire to go overseas and fight for the Islamic State group. The police captain told authorities that his son had become "obsessed" with Islam around the spring of 2013.
Ciccolo's father also told investigators his son had a "long history," of mental illness and concerns about his behavior go back for years.
The Boston Globe reported this week that Ciccolo was suspended from Wareham schools at least five times for aggressive and violent behavior, and was once arrested when he threatened to kill another student, charging at him with a butterfly knife.
Ciccolo was at one point hospitalized for psychiatric treatment, and attended a psychiatric program for adolescents with emotional difficulties.
Love for a mother, violent thoughts toward others
Ciccolo's parents are divorced, and it is unclear when he moved into his residence in an apartment building located at 10 Murray St. in Adams. During a Tuesday detention hearing in Springfield, his attorney revealed that the man's mother and stepfather currently live in what he described as a rural part of the Berkshires. The identities of the couple and an uncle who attended the hearing have not been disclosed.
Various media reports have characterized the young man's relationship with his mother as "good" and "close." He was seen mouthing the words "I love you," to her and his relatives during his hearing, and his attorney requested that Ciccolo be released into the custody of his mother and stepfather, where he could remain under house arrest using a GPS bracelet.
But court records also showed Ciccolo expressing intentions to harm people in a massive and violent fashion.
Ciccolo's July 4 arrest came after he took possession of four firearms from an FBI informant he had been communicating with in the preceding months.
According to the government, Ciccolo planned on using the guns as well as homemade Molotov cocktails and a pressure cooker bomb as part of a larger plot to kill college students in support of the Islamic State.
The target of the plan was not revealed in court documents, but it's believed to be outside of Massachusetts.
Ciccolo's attorney, David Hoose, of Northampton, has said that the only thing his client is charged with is a weapons possession charge.
Hoose said the only reason Ciccolo has been able to be charged with that crime is because the FBI provided those weapons to him at no cost through its informant as part of the investigation.
Otherwise, Hoose said, Ciccolo has only expressed unpopular beliefs.
Dreams of another life
Ciccolo, who also uses the name Ali Al Amriki, came to the attention of the Anti-Defamation League in 2014, prompting the group to begin monitoring one of the young man's Facebook accounts.
In 2012 peace walk photos, Ciccolo is seen sporting a sort of "hippie" fashion, with long hair held back by a bandana and simple T-shirts and blue jeans. A booking photo of him after being arrested on April 14, 2014, for driving while under the influence of alcohol shows him with a short haircut and wearing thick, dark-rimmed, rectangular glasses.
December 2014 Facebook posts shared in an ADL blog entry show the young man's head and face covered by scarves from the nose down and no glasses.
The ADL said the posts reflected anti-Israeli, anti-American and anti-Semitic sentiments.
In a Dec. 3 post, Ciccolo mocked U.S. and Israeli foreign policy, which he said, resulted in providing the Islamic State with, "some of the best weapons in the world."
"Maybe the Israelis ... will be the cause of their own destruction. As will America," part of the post reads. "They will suffer severe Hellfire and find themselves tortured souls."
Part of a Dec. 22, post referred to Adolf Hitler. Ciccolo described himself "dressed in an SS uniform" inspecting children in a school when he "saw Hitler and his face was so bright and beautiful."
In another post, Ciccolo described dreams of moving a caravan of Muslims across the desert and stealing weapons from the trunk of a police car to carry out some type of plan.
"Allah has apparently decided to speak quite clearly to me," he wrote.
Sympathizing with the Islamic State
According to court documents, Ciccolo's plans to harm others have changed several times, and there has been no indication that any of them have been carried out. Earlier versions of his proposed attacks targeted unspecified bars and a police station, before he seemed to settle on the college cafeteria because it was, "very sinful and has a crowd."
At Ciccolo's detention hearing in Springfield on Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Kevin O'Regan played approximately nine minutes of Ciccolo's nearly 102-minute video taped interview with investigators following his arrest.
O'Regan said Ciccolo wouldn't discuss the weapons he'd ordered and received from the informant, but did discuss his support of the Islamic State.
O'Regan said the nine minutes he played in court to bolster his argument that Ciccolo should be held while awaiting trial was representative of the entire conversation.
In the recorded segment, Ciccolo is shown sitting upright in a chair, speaking in a calm and convicted tone. He's removed his glasses from his face, and shifts and twirls them in his uncuffed hands, but his body does not move much in his seat.
The video shows him telling the interviewer that the Islamic State has been doing good work and people who welcome the Islamic State are living well as a result.
"You don't hear about that in the news," Ciccolo says.
Ciccolo said anyone who speaks out against the Islamic State or takes up arms against them or doesn't adopt Sharia law, the guiding principles or pathways of Muslim life, is considered an enemy. But scholars say the ideals and practices of Sharia are often misunderstood and misinterpreted by Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
Asked about the violent nature of Islamic State takeovers and persecution of other lands and people, Ciccolo tells the interviewer: "I don't find this unjust, because Allah has commanded it ... Allah's law is most high ... There can be nothing else."
More charges pending
In addition to the July 4 weapons charge, a felony, Ciccolo may face additional charges as the investigation continues, including charges connected to him stabbing a nurse in the head with a pen during a routine medical screening while being booked.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Katherine A. Robertson agreed people shouldn't be jailed for their beliefs, she said Ciccolo's statements, actions and stated plans to harm innocent people demonstrated a potential danger and ordered him held until trial, which has yet to be scheduled.
Ciccolo is currently detained at the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, R.I.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.