The 20-year-old private first class faces federal terrorism charges based on claims that he tried to help the Islamic State group destroy the New York City landmark and kill fellow soldiers abroad.
(CN) — A U.S. Army soldier was arrested Tuesday in Georgia on federal terrorism charges accusing him of talking online about a plot to help Islamic State members attack the 9/11 Memorial in New York City and trying to help the terrorist organization target his fellow servicemen in the Middle East.
Private First Class Cole James Bridges, 20, was charged with attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization and attempting to murder U.S. military service members. He faces up to 40 years in prison, according to the Justice Department.
Prosecutors claim Bridges, also known as Cole Gonzales, started demonstrating support for the Islamic State terrorist group on social media and “researching and consuming online propaganda promoting jihadists and their violent ideology” in 2019. He joined the Army in September of that year.
While Bridges was assigned to the Third Infantry Division as a cavalry scout at Fort Stewart, Georgia, he began communicating online with someone he thought was a fellow supporter of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, but who was actually an undercover FBI agent, authorities said.
The agent told Bridges they were an Islamic State supporter who was in contact with the group’s fighters in the Middle East.
During his conversations with the agent, Bridges allegedly expressed his allegiance to the group, provided detailed military training materials to help purported ISIS fighters plan attacks on American forces, and gave advice on potential targets in New York City, including the 9/11 Memorial.
“Bridges could have chosen a life of honorable service, but instead he traded it for the possibility of a lengthy prison sentence,” FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney, Jr. said Tuesday.
According to the Justice Department, Bridges diagrammed military maneuvers intended to help ISIS fighters “maximize the lethality of attacks on U.S. troops” and explained how to wire certain buildings with explosives to kill American soldiers.
The criminal complaint against Bridges states that he also created a video this month for use by ISIS as propaganda in which he stands in front of a jihadist flag and allegedly “makes statements celebrating the anticipated ISIS attack on U.S. soldiers that [he] attempted to facilitate.”
“This alleged personal and professional betrayal of comrades and country is terrible to contemplate, but fortunately, the FBI was able to identify the threat posed by Bridges, and today’s charges are the first step in holding him accountable for his crimes,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers said Tuesday. “ISIS ideology continues to infect those who would threaten the nation’s security from within and without, and we will continue to fight this threat.”
Bridges is expected to appear in Georgia federal court Thursday.