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Teen arrested in ISIS-inspired plot to commit mass shooting at Texas mall

ISIS (YouTube)

A Plano West Senior High School student was arrested on suspicion of making an ISIS-inspired plan to commit a mass shooting at Frisco’s Stonebriar Centre mall with help from others, authorities announced Wednesday.

Matin Azizi-Yarand, 17, faces charges of making a terroristic threat and criminal solicitation of capital murder of a Texas peace officer. He was taken into custody at school Tuesday and transferred Wednesday to the Collin County Detention Center, where he is being held in lieu of $3 million bail. If convicted, he faces up to life in prison.

Authorities say Azizi-Yarand was planning to carry out the attack in mid-May. He had sent more than $1,400 to others to buy weapons and tactical gear. He had also written a “Message to America” explaining his reasons for the attack.

The teen discussed his plans during online communications with FBI confidential sources and an undercover employee, mulling over attacks at a school and a Hindu temple before settling on Stonebriar Centre, according to the probable cause affidavit. He told the sources that he had learned the layout of the mall and had been observing patrons and security there.

During one conversation, he stated: “I’d actually like to make a cop surrender and drop his gun // then douse him with gasoline and burn him // record it.”

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The case was investigated by Plano and Frisco police and the FBI. It will be prosecuted by the Collin County district attorney’s office.

“We are fortunate that the brave men and women of local and federal law enforcement work around the clock to prevent acts of terrorism and mass shootings,” Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis said in a news release. “I’d like to thank the FBI’s North Texas Joint Terrorism Task Force and the Frisco and Plano police departments for their efforts in this case and their vigilance in protecting the citizens of Collin County.”

FBI Dallas Special Agent-In-Charge Eric K. Jackson said in a news release that the agency knows of no other threats related to Azizi-Yarand’s arrest.

“The American people can take comfort in knowing that we continue to work diligently to protect and defend the United States and to ensure the safety of the communities we serve,” Jackson said.

The attack was planned to happen during Ramadan to limit the number of Muslim casualties, the teen told one of the sources. Ramadan is Islam’s holiest month and includes prayers, fasting from dawn to dusk and nightly feasts. This year’s observance begins May 15.

“The facts of this case, though alarming, serve as an example of the power of cooperation and the importance of each individual remaining vigilant in the spirit of ‘see something-say something,’” Frisco Police Chief John Bruce said in a news release.

The teen stated that his plan was to cause financial damage, “setting stores on fire // gasoline // match // we won’t suffocate to death lol we can shoot open weapons,” according to the affidavit.

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There was also talk of taking hostages. “We can be even more careful if you’d like and take hostages and assess which ones we can kill letting go the elderly and the children,” he messaged one of the sources.

Neighbors who live near the family of Azizi-Yarand were shocked at news of his arrest.

“It’s absolutely crazy,” said Michelle Prevette, 45, who lives next door. “We just moved in two weeks ago. That’s what tripping me out.”

Prevette, 45, an Uber driver, said she had just come home from work about noon Tuesday when she saw federal agents wearing FBI vests removing evidence at the house next door.

“This whole street was packed with their cars,” Prevette said. “They were tight-lipped. They wouldn’t say nothing.”

Jessica Schlagal, 25, who lives in a house nearby, said she knew little about Azizi-Yarand. “He always kept to himself. I just seen him run out to his car at night,” Schlagal said.

Neither neighbor reported seeing the family of Azizi-Yarand since Tuesday’s raid, and no one answered the door Wednesday at the family’s one-story red-brick home.

The teen had recently converted to Islam and had attended a Plano mosque, according to Khalid Y. Hamideh, a spokesman for the Islamic Association of Collin County.

He cautioned that the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, does not represent the Islamic faith.

“We will continue to reiterate that their actions and ideology have no basis in the teachings of Islam,” he stated in a news release. “Their actions and teachings represent extremism, hate and murder — all of which are antithetical to what Muslims believe and practice.”

The teen began communicating online in December 2017 with “an FBI confidential human source” about his desire to either “make hijrah (travel)” or to do a terrorist attack within the United States, according to a probable cause affidavit.

“Look at all the other lone wolves// What training did they have yet they simply killed the kuffar?” he wrote using a derogatory Arabic term for disbelievers. “The brothers in Europe the brother in Spain the brother in New York? Had no limitary training // it’s not about numbers it’s about getting a message across to these taghut countries // it’s dangerous tho akhi we have to be careful some have gotten arrested // so we good brother?”

After the confidential source replied “OK,” Azizi-Yarand stated that he wanted to wait until he was 18 so that he could buy a rifle himself.

Azizi-Yarand’s messages often referred to his contacts as “akhi,” which is Arabic for “my brother.”

“But I swear I want to achieve Allahs (Gods) pleasure and kill the kuffar,” he stated, according to the affidavit. “I’ve only been reading ISIS magazine guides for performing operations and making bombs.”

He also told the source that he learned about Islam on the internet.

In a Jan. 29 message, he stated that he had settled on a local attack. “The ISIS guy said // We should attack America … Are you fine with killing some Americans?” he wrote.

During the online conversation, the Plano teen was asked whether he had a target. “Yeah, I’ve played some scenarios in my head akhi, lol I don’t plan to go in blind,” he stated.

“Yes, I want to put America in the state that Europe is in which is having to have soldiers deployed in streets” and “something that will cost them a lot financially too.”

The teen also sent the source several types of ISIS propaganda. There were links to videos about life in the Islamic State and about being a martyr as well as an image with the ISIS flag and a firearm and the text “Jihad (Struggle/Fight) and the rifle alone. NO negotiations, NO conferences and NO dialogue,” according to the affidavit.

Azizi-Yarand also sent a document authored by Eric Harris, one of the teens who committed the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, that detailed how to build pipe bombs.

Conversations soon turned to gathering money to buy weapons and tactical gear. He sent the sources photos of the mall in Frisco as well as gear needed.

“Firstly is guns // then ammo and magazines // second is a decent plate carrier that holds a lot of magazines // if we have enough money you can get a bullet proof mask // I wear glasses so that won’t work,” he wrote in late March.

Plate carriers “are military-style apparel that contain a metal plate and can be worn as a type of bullet-proof vest,” the affidavit stated.

On April 24, he messaged that he had gotten contacts so that his glasses wouldn’t impede their operation.

There was also talk about getting in shape physically for the attack. The teen told his confidential source to “take note of increasing cardio // try going to the gym // increasing stamina // can’t shoot out of breath and shaking // because remember we ain’t shooting paper targets.”

In late March, Azizi-Yarand sent a copy of a speech he had written to the undercover employee. It read in part: “before you call us evil people, look your selves this is only revenge you have started this war with us it will never end. We target your people as revenge for ours who were slaughtered … You can move to another country that is not fighting the muslims but of course you want your easy lives in America so we will cast terror into your hearts as Allah commanded us.”

The undercover employee got a post office box, and the teen later mailed a pre-paid credit card with $500 to the address. On April 13, the undercover employee sent photos of the items that the officer had claimed to have purchased with the card. The following day, the teen sent two envelopes to the post office box. One had $590 in cash and the other had $400.

On April 14, the Plano teen met in person with one of the confidential sources at a local hotel. When asked about the plan, Azizi-Yarand stated the plan is “not too in depth” and said they would “just run and gun,” the affidavit stated.

At the teen’s suggestion, the pair then walked to the mall, which was less than a mile from the hotel. Azizi-Yarand exchanged messages and photos with the undercover employee as the two were walking around the mall and talking.

During an April 18 conversation with the undercover employee, the Plano teen sent a link to a video of a person shooting an AR-15 rifle. Part of his message stated: “My rifle needs to be pretty and cool looking // put an I Love America sticky on the side.”

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© 2018 The Dallas Morning News

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.