On Friday, the United States Justice Department announced a 22-year-old Army soldier pled guilty to attempting to help Islamic State (ISIS) ambush and murder American soldiers in the Middle East.
Cole Bridges, or Cole Gonzales from Stow, Ohio, is facing up to 40 years in prison for his crimes after pleading guilty in a federal court in New York for trying to provide material support to the designated foreign terrorist organization and trying to murder U.S. military service members.
In September 2019, Bridges joined the Army as a cavalry scout in Georgia, according to federal prosecutors. In the same year, Bridges began researching online propaganda that promoted jihadism and expressed his support for ISIS and jihad on the internet.
In October 2020, prosecutors said Bridges started communicating with an undercover FBI agent who posed as an ISIS supporter in contact with ISIS fighters.
The cavalry scout did not realize he was talking with federal law enforcement, providing the FBI agent with “training and guidance to purported ISIS fighters who were planning attacks, including advice about potential targets in New York City.”
Bridges also outlined specific military moves to help ISIS fighters kill U.S. troops.
According to prosecutors, he was arrested by the Justice Department in January 2021.
In a public statement to reporters, U.S. Attorney Damian Williams of the Southern District of New York said that Cole Bridges “attempted to orchestrate a murderous ambush on his fellow soldiers in service of ISIS and its violent ideology.”
“Bridges’ traitorous conduct was a betrayal of his comrades and his country. Thanks to the incredible work of the prosecutors of this office and our partners at the FBI and the U.S. Army, Bridges’s malign intent was revealed, and he now awaits sentencing for his crimes,” Williams said.
According to the attorney from the Southern District of New York, the FBI’s New York Joint Terrorism Task Force, the U.S. Army Counterintelligence, the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations, the U.S. Army Third Infantry Division (Bridge’s Division), and other law enforcement and military organizations worked on the case.
The actions by Bridges are not a new phenomenon in the U.S. military. Following the 9/11 attacks and Al Qaeda and ISIS’s efforts to spread their jihadism messages on the internet, individuals like Nidal Malik Hasan, a former Army major, killed 13 people and injured more than 30 others in Fort Hood in November 2009. An investigation conducted by the FBI found that Hassan was influenced by the late Imam Anwar al-Awlaki, known for his anti-American sentiment and a key organizer for Al-Qaeda.
“The Army tries to monitor the mindset and emotional balance of all its members through the chain of command,” said Steven P. Bucci, a visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation who served America for three decades as an Army Special Forces officer and top Pentagon official.
“The leaders all look out for their folks on a constant basis. Normally they are masterful at pre-empting this sort of catastrophe. Sadly, they sometimes miss the signs. All they can do is redouble their efforts. I can assure you that is ongoing,” Bucci told The Foreign Desk.
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