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August 14, 2023

Philly teen allegedly communicated with global terrorist group, planned to build explosives

The 17-year-old, whose name has not been released, was arrested in West Philadelphia on Friday as part of an ongoing terrorism probe, the FBI says

Crime Investigations
Arrest Teen Terrorist Investigation Thom Carroll/For PhillyVoice

A 17-year-old was arrested in West Philadelphia on Friday for allegedly communicating with a global terrorist organization and planning to construct and test explosive devices.

A 17-year-old was arrested in West Philadelphia on Friday in connection with an ongoing terrorism investigation, officials from the FBI and the District Attorney's Office said on Monday. 

The teenage boy, whose name was not released due to his age, was found to have been in contact with Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad, an organization that the U.S. Department of State has designated as a global terrorist group, according to Jacqueline Maguire, a special agent in charge of the FBI's Philadelphia office. He was taken into custody Friday after law enforcement blocked off a portion of the 5900 block of Woodbine Avenue in Wynnefield.

KTJ, as the organization is known, is affiliated with Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups and operates primarily in Syria. The teenager allegedly communicated with the group through social media and made plans to travel overseas to join the terrorist organization, officials said. Maguire said that the teen had access to a number of firearms and had recently purchased materials used to make improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. 

The 17-year-old has been charged with state felonies including possessing instruments of mass destruction, criminal conspiracy, arson and reckless endangerment, according to District Attorney Larry Krasner. The District Attorney's Office will seek to prosecute the teen in adult court.

"The work of the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force potentially thwarted a catastrophic terrorist attack in the name of a perverted ideology that in no way, shape, or form represents the beliefs of the overwhelming majority of peace-seeking people of faith, including Muslims," Krasner said. "Self-radicalization by young people via the internet is a threat to all families. Parents... keep an eye out for violent cults that would lure in your kids under the guise of politics or religion." 

FBI officials became aware of the 17-year-old's alleged activities after discovering communication between him and KTJ on Instagram between March and April. A WhatsApp account connected to the teen's phone number displayed photos of Riyad-us-Saliheen Martyrs' Brigade, a Chechnya-based terrorist group, and ISIS. 

The FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force began an investigation and searched two properties tied to the teenager. U.S. Customs and Border Protection provided records of 14 international shipments of military and tactical gear to his home address. He allegedly made plans to put the materials together to create explosive devices and test them, Maguire said, though no fully constructed devices were found. 

Officials have not specified whether the teen's parents were aware of any of the alleged terroristic correspondence or purchases. 

KTJ is responsible for several terroristic activities within Syria, as well as a 2017 metro attack in Saint Petersburg, Russia that killed 14 passengers and injured more than 40 others, and a 2016 suicide car bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Kyrgyzstan that wounded three people, according to the Department of State. 

If the teen's case is transferred to adult criminal court, more information will be made available, according to the District Attorney's Office.