Maine teenager pleads guilty to terrorism charges for ISIS-inspired plot

Xavier Pelkey faces 15 years in prison for providing material support
Published: Apr. 7, 2023 at 11:00 AM EDT|Updated: Apr. 7, 2023 at 2:15 PM EDT
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BANGOR, Maine (WMTW) - A Waterville teenager has pleaded guilty to a federal indictment that he conspired to provide material support to terrorists -- Maine’s first adjudicated ISIS terrorism case.

19-year-old Xavier Pelkey entered his plea in person Friday morning in Bangor Federal Court before U.S. District Judge Lance Walker and now faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

Prosecutors portrayed Pelkey as a homegrown, self-directed plotter – ISIS-inspired but not controlled by or communicating with ISIS operatives overseas.

Pelkey, who lived in an apartment in downtown Waterville until his arrest February 11, 2022, admitted plotting remotely with other teenagers to attack a mosque in Chicago in the name of ISIS.

In a search of his home, FBI agents found three homemade explosive devices in a backpack in the corner of his bedroom and an hand-painted ISIS flag hanging on his bedroom wall.

In a declaratiion to support Pelkey’s indictment, FBI Agent Nathan Jacobs wrote each device consisted of several fireworks items bundled together with metal staples, pins, and increase the amount of shrapnel propelled by an explosion.

“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,’ Jacobs wrote.

With the plea deal, prosecutors agreed to dismiss a second criminal charge, possession of unregistered destructive devices, which carried a potential 10-year sentence.

Pelkey signed the plea agreement on March 7, and it was co-signed by his defense attorney, Christopher MacLean, and Assistant United States Attorney Craig Wolff.

Prosecutors contend Pelkey was a follower of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Sunni Muslim terrorist group better known as ISIS.

He was accused of conspiring online between November 2021 and February 2022 with teens in Illinois and Canada to carry out a mass shooting at a Shia mosque in March 2022.

The teens chatted through encrypted messages over Instagram, with Pelkey using the name “Abdullah,” short for his Instagram username, Abdullah.ibn.ahmad.

The explosive devices, found in a backpack in a Pelkey’s bedroom, consisted of fireworks and metal pieces bundled with tape.

Pelkey had searched the internet for gun shops in Maine where he could buy semi-automatic rifles, shotguns, and handguns.

In a declaration to support Pelkey’s pre-trial detention, FBI Agent Garrett Drew wrote, Pelkey and the another teen intended to travel by bus to Chicago, and Pelkey intended to acquire firearms and ammunition.

The Chicago teen possessed a Remington pump shotgun, swords, knives, a bow and arrows, multiple homemade ISIS flags – all seized by FBI Agents, Drew wrote.

Drew described the plot as a martyrdom opearion. “They did not have a plan to escape but rather their plan ended with them being shot by law enforcement,” Drew wrote.

A handwritten note found in Pelkey’s room was depicted as draft statement to be released upon the attack, with Pelkey pledging allegiance to ISIS and stating he intended to “burst thru the door of Jihad in america and strike fear in the hearts of these kafirun nothing pisses these american kuffar off and scares em more than a term they use ‘homegrown terrorist’ and I will claim this term let them cast me as a homegrown terrorist.”

“Kafirun” and “kuffar” are variations on Arabic terms for non-believers.

Material support has been the most frequent federal terrorism charge levied in hundreds of cases since 9/11.

Pelkey is one of 238 individuals to face ISIS-related terrorism charges in the U.S. since 2014, according to the GWU Program on Extremism.

He was indicted April 15, 2022, for possessing unregistered destructive devices. A superseding indictment on November 10, 2002, added the material support charge.

Pelkey has been in custody for the past 14 months since his arrest, held primarily at the Somerset County Jail.

Neither the Somerset County Sheriff nor U.S. Marshals would release his mug shot.

No cameras are allowed in federal court.

Pelkey grew up an Waterville and attended Waterville public schools from Kindergarten through part of 9th grade in 2018-19, according to school district records.

Principal Brian Laramee would not say why Pelkey left school during his freshman year.

Pelkey was 18 in 2022, in what would have been his senior year, when he was arrested.