CHICAGO — A teenager from Maine discussed a plan to massacre people at a mosque in Chicago before he was arrested this month on explosives charges, according to federal prosecutors.
Xavier Pelkey, 18, of Waterville, was arrested Feb. 11 after FBI agents said they found three homemade explosive devices while executing a search warrant at his apartment that day.
Pelkey was charged in federal court in Bangor, Maine, with one count of possession of an unregistered destructive device, according to court records. A conviction carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Each of the devices found in his backpack was made out of bundles of fireworks taped together, according to an FBI affidavit in support of the charge.
They were also filled with staples, pins and thumbtacks, which were “designed to increase the amount of shrapnel propelled by an explosion if the devices were detonated” and indicated they were specifically designed as weapons, according to the opinion of an FBI bomb technician cited in the affidavit, which also included photos of the devices.
According to the FBI, 18-year-old Xavier Pelkey possessed improvised explosive devices made out of fireworks and small metal items that were intended to be used as weapons. (via U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maine)
“When we first spoke with Pelkey, he told us he had ‘fireworks’ in the apartment. After we found the three devices described above, I asked him why the fireworks were taped together, and he said he wanted to make a ‘bigger boom,'” FBI agent Nathan Jacobs said. “I then asked him why the metal items were in the devices, but he did not respond to my question.”
Prosecutors sought to have Pelkey remain jailed ahead of trial. At a detention hearing Tuesday first reported by News Center Maine, Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Wolff said a pair of juvenile witnesses had told investigators that Pelkey had discussed a plan to go to a mosque in Chicago and “commit mass murder.”
Pelkey went by the online alias “Abdullah” and exchanged Instagram messages with the two witnesses about a plot to kill all the men at a mosque before “potentially moving on to another mosque or synagogue and doing the same thing,” Wolff said, according to a transcript of the hearing cited by the Chicago Tribune.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations called for federal prosecutors to pursue hate crime charges against Pelkey.
“This disturbing case highlights the real threat posed by anti-Muslim bigotry, antisemitism and other forms of hate,” Edward Ahmed Mitchell, the organization’s deputy director, said Wednesday in a statement.
The alleged plot culminated with Pelkey — who “wanted to die fighting for Allah” — being shot by police, Wolff reportedly told U.S. Magistrate Judge John Nivison at Tuesday’s hearing.
But Christopher MacLean, Pelkey’s attorney, said the teen disavowed the allegations of the terrorist plot and, the Tribune reported, said the facts will reveal it to be a “much more mundane situation” than prosecutors described.
Nonetheless, Nivison granted the prosecutors’ motion to keep Pelkey behind bars while awaiting trial. The judge cited the “nature and seriousness of the danger presented” and found “there are no conditions or combinations of conditions that will reasonably assure [Pelkey’s] appearance or the safety of the community.”