The man who prompted last week's FBI warning of a threat to New Jersey synagogues has been arrested, officials said Thursday.
The 18-year-old suspect, Omar Alkattoul, allegedly wrote a violent screed detailing his hatred of Jews and his desire to commit a deadly attack on a synagogue.
The arrest came a week after the FBI's Newark office issued an alert that it had "received credible information of a broad threat to synagogues in NJ" and asked the public to "take all security precautions to protect your community and facility." A day later, on Friday, the office announced it had "identified the source of the threat," who, it added, "no longer poses a danger to the community."
Details of what prompted the alert were not known until Thursday, when the Department of Justice announced the arrest. Alkattoul, who is from Sayreville, New Jersey, has been charged with one count of "transmitting a threat in interstate and foreign commerce."
According to a federal indictment, Alkattoul wrote a document titled "When Swords Collide," in which he wrote about wanting to carry out an attack against Jews, which he shared on social media. "I am a Muslim with so many regrets but I can assure you this attack is not one of them," he wrote in the document's introduction, promising that "many more attacks like these" would come.
Alkattoul conceived of the attack as an "act of revenge" due to his belief that Jews are "a very powerful group" who "support terror against Muslims," according to the indictment. He praised terrorists like Osama bin Laden as "heroes" in his screed, and said in a private message he wanted his attack "to be affiliated with AQ [al-Qaeda].”
In private social media messages, according to the complaint, Alkattoul said his attack would "involve bombings, shootings, and 'maybe' beheadings." He also reportedly expressed hatred of gay people, saying he was also considering an attack on a queer nightclub.
Alkattoul said his attack would be in retaliation for the 2019 mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, where a white supremacist killed 51 people. He also praised the white supremacist who murdered nine Black people at a church in 2015, using racist slurs to describe the victims and saying "a lot Muslims in the west should learn from him.”
It is unclear when — or if — Alkattoul legitimately planned to carry out the violence he fantasized about. In messages shortly before his arrest, he said he was "50/50" on whether he would go forward with the attack. He also allegedly said it was "gonna take me years to prepare for it because I don’t have items and my parents do not like guns."
In interviews with the FBI, Alkattoul was also wishy-washy about his plan, according to the indictment, at some points denying he really would have committed the attack, but also saying it was a "possibility." He created the document, he claimed, "while LARP-ing" (live-action role-playing) as a terrorist.
In the interviews, Alkattoul allegedly "admitted that he had hostility but would not be violent himself," and claimed that if he heard of someone considering an attack, "he would tell them not to do it because he would feel bad if they got arrested or killed."
"Alkattoul said, however, that he would not feel bad for the victims of violence," the complaint states.
Alkattoul said he did not plan to actually commit violence "because he did not want to disappoint his family" and "did not want to serve a prison term, get shot, or die."
"He further claimed that he did not 'have the balls' to commit such an act, especially after 'this visit from the FBI," the complaint states.
However, according to the indictment, Alkattoul continued to profess his support for terrorist groups even after he was taken in for questioning.
After the FBI interview, he was taken to the hospital for an examination, and allegedly "told the ambulance personnel that he supported ISIS and al-Qaeda."
He also told a hospital employee that he had thought he had been "communicating on social media with someone he believed to be in al-Qaeda," whom, the complaint says, he told of his plans to "blow up a synagogue," but said he "did not know if it was going to be in a day, a week, or year."
"Alkattoul further told [the hospital employee] that although some things he said on social media were a joke, one thing that was not a joke was his wanting to plan an attack on a synagogue," the complaint states.
Alkattoul is expected to appear in federal court Thursday afternoon. If convicted, he could face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. He is being represented by a public defender, according to NJ.com, but BuzzFeed News was unable to reach them for comment.
Antisemitic beliefs and conspiracy theories have at times inspired deadly violence against Jewish people, with several attacks in recent years being committed at synagogues. In October 2018, a man who railed against Jews online fatally shot 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Less than a year later, a man who praised the Pittsburgh shooter in an online diatribe fatally shot a woman at a synagogue in Poway, California. And in recent weeks, antisemitism has trended on social media, as some of the biggest names in the country have spouted conspiracy theories and disturbing beliefs.
"There is nothing the US Attorney’s Office takes more seriously than threats to our communities of faith and places of worship," US Attorney Philip Sellinger said in a statement. "Protection of these communities is core to this office’s mission, and this office will devote whatever resources are necessary to keep our Jewish community and all New Jersey residents safe.”