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Terrorism arrest in upstate New York caps busy year for FBI

With police on heightened alert in Times Square and elsewhere around the nation, the FBI announced the arrest of a 25-year-old man in upstate New York for allegedly providing material support to Islamic State and planning to “kill innocent civilians on New Year’s Eve in the name of the terrorist organization.”

Emanuel L. Lutchman, who was arraigned Thursday before a federal judge in Rochester, N.Y., said an Islamic State operative in Syria had encouraged him in emails to try to kill thousands of people in the Rochester area, according to court records.

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According to court records, Lutchmen spent much of the last two months in contact with an Islamic State operative overseas, meeting with three FBI informants around Rochester, acquiring knives and other assault tools at a local Wal-Mart, and hoping to win a spot with the militant group in Syria.

A former convict, Lutchman allegedly told the FBI informants that joining Islamic State was a “dream come true.” He said, according to federal court records, “I will take a life. I don’t have a problem with that.”

The case caps a year that saw the FBI launch terrorism-related investigations in every state and jurisdiction, and make more than 60 arrests of alleged supporters of Islamic State or other extremist groups.

The year also saw three domestic incidents that the FBI considered terrorism.

On May 3, two armed men were shot and killed as they prepared to attack a "Draw Muhammed" contest in Garland, Texas. On July 16, a gunman was killed after he had shot and killed four Marines and a sailor in Chattanooga, Tenn.

And on Dec. 2, a married couple -- Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik -- were killed in a shootout with police after they had shot and killed 14 people and wounded 22 others at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino. 

Like Lutchman, court records claim, Farook and Malik were radicalized on the Intneret. Unlike Lutchman, though, they were inspired by Islamic State but not specifically directed to carry out an attack.

Court records describe Lutchman as a self-professed Muslim convert with a criminal history dating back to 2006, including a New York state conviction for robbery and a five-year prison sentence.

He did not enter a plea in court Thursday. If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison.

FBI Special Agent Timothy J. Klapec said in a 10-page affidavit that Lutchman began telling a paid undercover informant in November that he hoped to join Islamic State abroad, but had been advised by a Syrian operative there that the borders were closed.

Nevertheless, Lutchman still wanted to leave America, which he called the land of the “kuffar” – a derogatory Arabic word for non-believer or infidel, the affidavit said.

Lutchman then began considering a terrorist attack in the Rochester area to prove his allegiance to Islamic State, the FBI said. He told the informant he had been encouraged to kill “100000s of kuffar” on New York’s Eve, the affidavit said.

Lutchman said the Islamic State operative in Syria told him, “New years is here soon. Do operations and kill some kuffar,” according to the affidavit.

Lutchman told another FBI informant that he had been directed to “find the places where the most population” is and “take as many as possible out.”

Lutchman allegedly discussed “doing assassinations” and considered building a pressure cooker bomb similar to those used in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.

“I’m getting amped up, to accept the fact that’s what I gotta do,” he allegedly told a FBI third informant on Monday.

He considered planting a bomb in a local nightclub and taking hostages, but he had no money for bomb components or firearms, the affidavit said.

On Tuesday night, he and the informant visited a Wal-Mart in Rochester and spent $40 for two knives, two black ski masks, zip-ties, a machete, duct tape, ammonia and latex gloves, all paid for by the informant.

“It’s going to get real after this,” Lutchman allegedly told the informant afterward. “It’s just you and me and the Lord.”

The next day – Wednesday – he recorded a video on his cellphone pledging his allegiance to Islamic State and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the FBI said.

Later that day, while driving around Rochester with the informant, Lutchman was arrested.

Richard.Serrano@latimes.com

Twitter: @RickSerranoLAT

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