A 17-year-old from West Philadelphia has been charged with buying and testing bomb-making materials in support of a foreign terrorist group, state and federal authorities announced Monday.
The teen, whom prosecutors declined to name because he is a juvenile, was arrested Friday at his home in the Wynnefield section of the city, said Jacqueline Maguire, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia office.
Investigators say he’d purchased materials including chemicals, wiring and tactical equipment associated with improvised explosive devices and conducted “generalized research” on potential targets, she said at a news conference announcing the arrest.
She also said the teen had been “taking steps to travel overseas for the purpose of joining or supporting terrorist activity,” though she declined to offer specifics.
The teen faces state felony charges including possessing weapons of mass destruction, conspiracy, arson and causing or risking a catastrophe.
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner said his office was required by law to charge the teen in juvenile court, but that prosecutors would seek to move his case into the adult system.
It was not immediately clear Monday whether the teen had retained a lawyer. Krasner said the teen remained in custody, and that “it will be our intent that he remain there” until the case is resolved.
“The young man who is under arrest was an aspiring terrorist,” Krasner said. “He was not merely thinking but was doing things that are deeply disturbing and presented a grave danger to everyone — himself, his family, the block where he lives and frankly people everywhere in Philadelphia and potentially people around the country or even overseas.”
Although Krasner and the FBI announced the case at a news conference Monday, they kept many of the details of their investigation and the teen at its center under wraps, citing his age and the ongoing nature of the probe.
However, sources familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity linked the arrest to an FBI raid Friday on the 5900 block of Woodbine Avenue at the home of a Qawi Abdul-Rahman, a Philadelphia defense attorney who unsuccessfully ran in this year’s Democratic primary for Common Pleas Court judge.
Abdul-Rahman did not immediately return requests for comment Monday.
Maguire said that the teenager first came to the attention of the FBI through contacts he’d made over social media with members of a Syrian group known as Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad, or KTJ, which the U.S. State Department designated as a foreign terror organization last year.
The group, which has claimed affiliation with ISIS, has taken credit for a 2017 attack on a subway in St. Petersburg, Russia that killed 14 people and injures scores more as well as a suicide bombing on a Chinese embassy in Kyrgyzstan in 2016.
Prosecutors said they found that the teen’s Instagram account had communicated with a KTJ account in March and April 2023. And his WhatsApp account displayed a banner associated with two terrorist groups: First, the Chechnya-based Riyad-us-Saliheen Martyrs’ Brigade, and later an image connected to ISIS.
But the investigation into the teen entered a new phase over the past several weeks after he began amassing equipment including tactical gear, wiring, chemicals, and devices often used as detonators, Maguire said.
FBI agents surveilled him as he bought materials to make homemade bombs on Aug. 7, and on Aug. 8, U.S. Customs and Border Protection “provided records revealing 14 international shipments of military and tactical gear” to his house, prosecutors said in a statement. They added that he’d also taken steps toward assembling them into explosives and testing them in recent weeks.
“These purchases quickly escalated this case into a threat and a priority for our office,” she said. “This was now a situation where we believe public safety was at risk.”
As agents descended on his home Friday, they found what Maguire described as a “significant number” of firearms but no completed bombs in the house. She declined to elaborate on who those guns belonged to or where they were stored.
“This investigation is very much ongoing,” she said.
The teenager’s apprehension came nearly a month after federal prosecutors charged a sophomore student at Pennsylvania State University’s Abington campus with lying to the FBI about his contacts with ISIS sympathizers and efforts to assist an averted terror attack in Chicago last year.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office said the case against that defendant — Kamal Fataliev, 19, of Philadelphia — is not connected to the charges filed against the teenager charged Monday.
© 2023 The Philadelphia Inquirer, LLC
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.