Authorities have arrested an 18-year-old teenager for allegedly being behind the threats that forced the FBI to put New Jersey synagogues on high alert last week.
The threats were first brought to the public's attention when the FBI office in Newark, New Jersey, issued a broad warning to synagogues in the area on November 3. The warning stated they had “received credible information of a broad threat” and told Jewish people to “take all security precautions to protect your community and facility.”
This week the Department of Justice announced they arrested Omar Alkattoul of Sayreville, New Jersey. The criminal complaint against the man alleges he wrote an antisemitic online screed, and threatened to use a molotov cocktail on a Jewish person and “curb stomp” LGBTQ people. Authorities say Alkattoul defended himself by saying he was “larping” as a terrorist when he wrote and shared the attack plan. He has been charged with transmitting a threat.
“No one should be targeted for violence or with acts of hate because of how they worship,” Philip R. Sellinger, the U.S. attorney for the district of New Jersey, said in a statement. “According to the complaint, this defendant used social media to send a manifesto containing a threat to attack a synagogue based on his hatred of Jews.”
The screed called "When Swords Collide” outlined the writer’s desire to attack and kill Jewish people. Alkattoul allegedly told police he wrote the document. In a section called “The Heroes,” the screed lionizes al-Qaeda and ISIS leaders, including Osama Bin Laden, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and Abu Mohammad al-Adnani.
A significant portion of the criminal complaint focuses on Alkattoul’s alleged conversations with people on social media apps. Here, the suspect allegedly told people he planned the attack as revenge for the Christchurch, New Zealand attack where a neo-Nazi killed 51 Muslims. He allegedly was also a fan of white supremacist Dylan Roof because he killed Christians and said that “the attack would involve bombings, shootings, and ‘maybe’ beheadings.”
The court documents allege that Alkattoul told officers he wasn’t definitely going to carry out the plan and, in October, told an online acquaintance he was “50/50” on carrying out the attack. He told officers the group chat he was in was for people “larping” (live-action role-playing) as terrorists.
“Alkattoul claimed he would not actually do it because he did not want to disappoint his family,” it reads. “He further claimed that he did not ‘have the balls’ to commit such an act, especially after ‘this visit’ from the FBI. Alkattoul additionally claimed that he did not want to serve a prison term, get shot, or die.”
Despite allegedly telling the FBI agents he spoke to he was just playing make-believe, Alkattoul almost immediately went back to supporting international terror groups, the court documents say. Following his interview with federal agents, Alkattoul was transported to the hospital for an evaluation. On the way there he allegedly “told the ambulance personnel that he supported ISIS and al-Qaeda” and followed that up by telling a hospital employee he was planning an attack on a synagogue.
“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,” it reads.