Active US soldier charged with planning attacks on NYC, fellow service members

NEW YORK (WABC) -- An active duty American soldier is in federal custody Tuesday after he plotted with someone he thought was a member of ISIS to attack a landmark in New York City and fellow troops overseas, according to a law enforcement official.

Cole James Bridges, a private first class in the U.S. Army who is stationed at Fort Stewart, is charged with attempting to provide material support to ISIS and attempting to murder U.S. service members.

The Ohio native spoke to an undercover FBI agent when he thought he was planning an ISIS-inspired attack against the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.

He also was charged with planning to attack fellow U.S. soldiers.

"As alleged, Cole Bridges betrayed the oath he swore to defend the United States by attempting to provide ISIS with tactical military advice to ambush and kill his fellow service members," Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said. "Our troops risk their lives for our country, but they should never face such peril at the hands of one of their own. Today, thanks to the efforts of the agents and detectives of the JTTF, and our partners in the Department of Defense, Bridges is in custody and facing federal terrorism charges for his alleged crimes."

FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. said it was fortunate the person with whom he communicated was an FBI employee.

"We were able to prevent his evil desires from coming to fruition," Sweeney said. "Bridges could have chosen a life of honorable service, but instead he traded it for the possibility of a lengthy prison sentence. This case should serve as a reminder that the FBI's New York JTTF will never quit in its commitment to protect our Nation from all those who seek to do it harm."

He will be presented in court on Thursday.

According to the criminal complaint, which was unsealed Tuesday in Manhattan Federal court, Bridges joined the U.S. Army in approximately September 2019, and was assigned as a cavalry scout in the 3rd Infantry Division based in Fort Stewart, Georgia.

Beginning in at least 2019, Bridges allegedly began researching and consuming online propaganda promoting jihadists and their violent ideology. He also allegedly expressed his support for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham ("ISIS") and jihad on social media.

The criminal complaint said in or about October 2020, Bridges began communicating with an FBI online covert employee (the "OCE"), who was posing as an ISIS supporter in contact with ISIS fighters in the Middle East. During these communications, Bridges expressed his frustration with the U.S. military and his desire to aid ISIS.

Bridges then allegedly provided training and guidance to purported ISIS fighters who were planning attacks, including advice about potential targets in New York City, such as the 9/11 Memorial, and also provided the OCE with portions of a U.S. Army training manual and guidance about military combat tactics, for use by ISIS.

In or about December 2020, Bridges began to supply the OCE with instructions for the purported ISIS fighters on how to attack U.S. forces in the Middle East, according to the criminal complaint.

Among other things, Bridges allegedly diagrammed specific military maneuvers intended to help ISIS fighters maximize the lethality of attacks on U.S. troops.

Bridges allegedly provided advice about the best way to fortify an ISIS encampment to repel an attack by U.S. Special Forces, including by wiring certain buildings with explosives to kill the U.S. troops.

Then, in January 2021, the criminal complaint said Bridges provided the OCE with a video of himself in body armor standing before a flag often used by ISIS fighters and making a gesture symbolic of support for ISIS. Approximately a week later, Bridges allegedly sent a second video, in which he used a voice manipulator, narrated a propaganda speech in support of the anticipated ambush by ISIS on U.S. troops.

He is charged in the complaint with attempting to provide material support to ISIS, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2339B, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; and (2) attempting to murder U.S. military service members, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1114, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

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