Alexander Ciccolo: Alleged terrorist, or mentally ill individual caught in an FBI sting?

imagesPublic domain photo: Shock and Awe, Iraq 2003

Alexander Ciccolo: Alleged terrorist, or mentally ill individual caught in an FBI sting?

From 2012 through 2014, Alexander Ciccolo, who is now allegedly associated with lone wolf domestic terrorism, was arrested three times in the Berkshire Hills of Western Massachusetts on charges that may or may not have been related to the crime for which he was arraigned this past week in federal district court in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Each time he was arrested, he acted out hostility toward the police and was drunk (“Ciccolo’s terror arrest not first encounter with police,” The Berkshire Eagle, July 14, 2015). That behavior would be consistent with Ciccolo’s violent behavior toward a nurse while in confinement on a weapon’s charge, when he viciously plunged a pen into the nurse’s head during a routine medical examination.

On July 4, 2015, Ciccolo was arrested on the weapon’s charge that has hallmarks of FBI sting operations carried out in other places (most notably in New York) in the U.S. against would-be domestic terrorists (“FBI Terrorism Sting Tactics Under New Scrutiny In Report, Documentaries,” The Huffington Post, July 21, 2014). Ciccolo had come to the attention of the FBI when his father, with whom he was estranged, a police captain with the Boston Police, alerted the authorities to his son’s increasingly erratic emotional behavior and pronouncements of religious fanaticism.

A police officer, who previously had arrested Ciccolo in North Adams, Massachusetts, mistakenly heard one of Ciccolo’s extremist religious statements. The officer thought that Ciccolo had yelled “white power” while a passenger in a car that had been stopped, but was later understood as having said “Allahu Akbar” (“God is greatest” in Arabic, a statement now sometimes associated with religious fanaticism). I called the reporter from The Berkshire Eagle, who had written the July 14, 2015 article, to ask if he had any information on Ciccolo’s mental health history and did not receive a return call. I thought that such aggressive behavior might have warranted further investigation by a journalist.

When the news of Ciccolo’s earlier arrest made national headlines when authorities later searched his apartment, reports of a plan to attack a bar, which was then changed to a plan to attack an unnamed college or university campus with handguns, rifles, and a pressure cooker bomb were reported. The plan to use a pressure cooker bomb seemed eerily like the attack at the Boston Marathon in April 2013. In addition to the FBI providing Ciccolo with two Glock pistols and two rifles for the alleged planned attack, he was filmed in a local Walmart purchasing a pressure cooker.

According to “ISIS Sting…or FBI Catfishing?” published in The Daily Beast, July 14, 2015, NECN reported that Ciccolo had “been in and out of mental health facilities since he was a child until the age of 18 when he began to refuse treatment and live by himself.”

Adding outrage to Ciccolo’s real or imagined scheme of attack was his reported idea of video taping his planned attack on the unnamed campus.

The federal judge who ordered Ciccolo held and remanded to the Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, Rhode Island, was able to keep him locked up because of the previous charge of possession of a dangerous weapon. His earlier arrests included disturbing the peace, resisting arrest, and driving while drunk.

The largest TV news station in the Western Massachusetts/Upstate New York area is the CBS affiliate, Channel 6. Its news report on the evening Ciccolo’s apartment was searched stressed his allegedly Islamic State-inspired and copycat terror plan. Several residents of the neighborhood in Adams, Massachusetts, where Ciccolo lived, provided the station’s reporter with their assessment on the alleged threat that Ciccolo posed. One interview was particularly telling, when the interviewee suggested that Ciccolo must have had terror associates working with him in the plot that he had planned.

In a recorded interrogation while in custody, Ciccolo made outrageous statements lauding the Islamic State and echoed the violent rhetoric and actions that ISIS carries out and espouses.

Is Alexander Ciccolo a terrorist, or is he the victim in a string of calculated sting operations by the FBI to place either poor and/or mentally unstable individuals and groups in such a position that they were encouraged to develop plans of attack on innocent people within the U.S. by providing them with either actual or imagined weapons?

Alexander Ciccolo seems like a person with serious mental health issues that were apparently no longer being addressed. His behavior prior to his arrest was anything but that of the disciplined actions of a religious fanatic who was carefully planning an attack on innocent civilians. His history of police interactions involved loud, obnoxious, and aggressive behavior more in keeping with someone suffering from severe mental illness than a disciplined disciple of the Islamic State planning violent behavior in the name of God. In July and August 2012, Ciccolo took part in a peace walk around Lake Ontario in New York supporting peaceful social movements according to an article in The Berkshire Eagle (“Alexander Ciccolo: Adams man’s path divided between peace and violence,” July 16, 2015), behavior completely at odds with his recent plans and actions.

Meanwhile, the blowback from endless wars continues with others seeking to act out vicious behavior in the name of God and political fanaticism.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

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