Alexander Ciccolo to get 20 years for terror plot, assault
SPRINGFIELD — Alexander Ciccolo on Monday agreed to spend 20 years in prison rather than take his case on terrorism, weapons and assault charges to trial.
Ciccolo, 25, of Adams, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Springfield to charges associated with a plot to commit a terrorist attack on behalf of the Islamic State, and a vicious attack on a nurse while he was in federal custody.
There was little new information revealed by prosecutors in the approximately 45-minute hearing, which came just weeks before Ciccolo was scheduled to go on trial.
"Mr. Ciccolo is finally accepting responsibility for concocting an elaborate and frightening plot to engage in terrorism on behalf of ISIS," said Harold H. Shaw, special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Boston field office. "Any material support of a terrorist organization threatens our national security, and had Mr. Ciccolo's efforts to advance his agenda not been thwarted by the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force, countless lives could have been lost in a lethal terrorist attack."
A formal sentencing hearing was scheduled for 2 p.m. Sept. 5.
Ciccolo was arrested July 4, 2015, after he allegedly accepted a small cache of weapons from an FBI informant in Adams.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Deepika Shukla said between September 2014 and his arrest, Ciccolo had posted messages of support for the Islamic State on social media, including captioning a photo of a dead U.S. service member with a message of thanks to the terror group.
Ciccolo's attorney, David Hoose, said his client has since stopped associating himself with the group.
By pleading guilty before Judge Mark G. Mastroianni, Ciccolo also admitted to posting messages of support for convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and downloading pro-Islamic State materials and videos of beheadings, as well as recipes for explosives and bombs and other propaganda.
He also admitted to planning an attack on a college campus somewhere outside of Massachusetts with the intent to broadcast executions of students on the internet.
The identity of the specific college has not been publicly disclosed.
"Even though he was born and raised in Massachusetts, Alexander Ciccolo swore allegiance to ISIS and planned to kill innocent civilians in the United States on ISIS's behalf," said U.S. Attorney Andrew E. Lelling. "Fortunately, someone who knew Ciccolo alerted law enforcement, and we were able to stop Ciccolo before he tried to kill anyone."
He came to the attention of authorities after his estranged father, a Boston Police captain, alerted them to his son's stated interest in supporting the work of the terror group.
Hoose said the plea agreement was reached after negotiations with prosecutors.
"This is an agreement that everyone has come together on," Hoose said. "My goal at this point is just to get it over the finish line and get Alex on to the next phase of his life."
In all, Ciccolo pleaded guilty to four counts: providing material support to a terrorist organization, attempting to use weapons of mass destruction, being a prohibited person in possession of firearms and assault with a dangerous weapon.
He faced up to a life sentence on the attempt to use weapons of mass destruction charge and up to 20 years on the assault and providing material support charges.
Ciccolo admitted that he was in the process of constructing several improvised explosive devices, including Molotov cocktails and a pressure cooker bomb, similar to the ones used in the Boston Marathon bombings.
Shukla said the cocktails were in glass jars, some of which contained a mixture of motor oil and styrofoam, which would thicken the mixture and cause it to stick to skin once ignited. He said Ciccolo had planned to use nails and gunpowder in the improvised bombs.
According to court files, Ciccolo planned to rob a gun store for weapons and planned to travel out of state to purchase fireworks and use the gunpowder to carry out the attacks.
On July 4, 2015, he accepted a small cache of weapons from an informant cooperating with the FBI and who had been in contact with Ciccolo beginning in June 2015.
Ciccolo said he intended to carry out the attack before July 31, 2015, which would have been the end of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month.
He was under surveillance for about six months prior to his arrest, via a camera mounted outside of his Adams apartment.
The weapons Ciccolo accepted included a pair of handguns and two rifles, one of which was an AR-15. He was arrested later the same day.
During his booking process, Ciccolo used a pen to stab a nurse in the head "more than 10 times," while she was attempting to perform a routine tuberculosis screening.
Ciccolo, who said he dropped out of school in the 11th grade and worked fast-food and roofing jobs after that, had once been a peace advocate, having taken part in a peace walk around Lake Ontario, organized by the Grafton Peace Pagoda, located off Route 2 in Petersburgh, N.Y., in July and August 2012.
He drew the attention of the Anti-Defamation League in 2014, prompting the group to begin monitoring one of the his Facebook accounts.
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," the post reads. "They will suffer severe Hellfire and find themselves tortured souls."
In a Dec. 22 post, he 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.
Ciccolo's case was expected to head to trial later this year, with dates selected for the beginning of jury selection and a tentative trial start date of June 19. But word came last week that he would accept a plea deal instead.
Hoose said more details about the charges his client had pleaded to may become available as the case proceeds to September's sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court in Springfield.
He will receive credit for any time he's already served in custody, but will not be eligible for parole or early release, Mastroianni said.
Ciccolo's mother and stepfather attended the hearing, but declined to comment afterward.
Bob Dunn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @BobDunn413 on Twitter and 413-496-6249.
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