US teen planned to attack Chicago synagogues, mosques - FBI

The teen was arrested last spring and pled not guilty to charges of explosives possession, as there wasn't enough evidence to charge him with terrorism – until now.

A Cook County Sheriff's police car patrols the exterior of the Cook County Jail in Chicago, Illinois, January 12, 2016. (photo credit: JIM YOUNG/REUTERS)
A Cook County Sheriff's police car patrols the exterior of the Cook County Jail in Chicago, Illinois, January 12, 2016.
(photo credit: JIM YOUNG/REUTERS)

An 18-year-old teenager from Maine who was arrested in February for possession of explosives will face terrorism and conspiracy charges for plotting to murder worshippers at mosques and synagogues, a secret FBI search warrant obtained by ABC-7 in Chicago discovered.

The 45-page warrant detailed Xavier Pelkey’s intricate plot to separate children from adults at places of worship around Chicago – starting with a prominent mosque in the city. Pelkey, along with a 15-year-old collaborator from Chicago and a 17-year-old from Kentucky, plotted a mass shooting at an identified Chicago-area Shia mosque in late March. 

“They planned to enter the mosque, separate the adults from the children, and then kill all the adults. If at that point, law enforcement had not intervened, they planned to travel to another Shia mosque or possibly a Synagogue and do the same thing. They would continue until they were shot and killed by law enforcement," the FBI warrant alleges.

The teen was arrested last spring and pled not guilty to the charges. While investigators involved in the arrest believed Pelkey was plotting to attack a Chicago mosque, there was not enough evidence to charge him with anything beyond possession of explosives. The new FBI findings mean the prosecution will add terrorism-related conspiracy charges to Pelkey’s case.

 Community members gather at a memorial site near the parade route the day after a mass shooting at a Fourth of July parade in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park, Illinois, US July 5, 2022 (credit: CHENEY ORR/REUTERS) Community members gather at a memorial site near the parade route the day after a mass shooting at a Fourth of July parade in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park, Illinois, US July 5, 2022 (credit: CHENEY ORR/REUTERS)

"It's now shaping up to be giving material support to a terrorist organization, probably conspiring with others to give support to a terrorist organization," ABC7 legal analyst Gil Soffer said. "It carries a heavier maximum penalty. It implicates national security concerns. It's more than one person, it's a conspiracy, potentially, it's a much more serious charge."

Another potential attack thwarted

US law enforcement has been vigilant against the rise of attacks on holy sites. The 2018 Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh left 11 dead, while a 2019 shooting in a Poway, California synagogue left one dead and three injured – including the synagogue’s Rabbi. The most recent incident, a hostage crisis at a Colleyville, Texas synagogue, fortunately, did not end with any victim fatalities.