U.S. Soldier Discussed Attack on 9/11 Memorial, Prosecutors Say

An American soldier discussed targets for potential terror attacks in the United States and shared instructions for killing American troops in the Middle East with someone he believed was an Islamic State supporter, federal authorities said on Tuesday.

While stationed in Germany last fall, the soldier discussed possible targets, including the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in Lower Manhattan, a criminal complaint shows.

“Choose your targets wisely,” the soldier, Cole James Bridges, an Army private from Ohio, wrote to the person he believed was a woman working with the Islamic State. But it turned out that Private Bridges was messaging with an undercover employee of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to the complaint, which was made public on Tuesday by federal prosecutors in Manhattan.

Private Bridges, 20, was arrested on Tuesday by the F.B.I. and Army Counterintelligence in Georgia, where he had been assigned as a cavalry scout in the 3rd Infantry Division based at Fort Stewart.

He was charged with attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, and the attempted murder of U.S. military service members, according to the complaint; each charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

No attack was ever carried out. But Private Bridges advised the undercover F.B.I. employee on how to mount an attack in New York City, according to the complaint. He also provided the undercover F.B.I. employee with instructions on how to conduct an attack on U.S. forces in the Middle East, federal authorities said.

“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,” said Audrey Strauss, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, whose office is prosecuting the case.

A lawyer in Savannah, Ga., who was listed as representing Private Bridges there did not respond to a request for comment.

Private Bridges joined the army in September 2019, and he soon began researching and consuming online propaganda promoting jihadists and expressed his support for ISIS on social media, the government said in a news release.

Last October, he began communicating with the undercover F.B.I. employee, expressing a desire to assist ISIS, the release said.

Over the course of encrypted communications with the undercover F.B.I. employee and also with a confidential government source who was posing as another ISIS supporter, Private Bridges “expressed his allegiance to ISIS and its radical jihadist ideology,” the complaint said.

These conversations continued while the private, who also went by the name Cole Gonzales, was deployed with his unit to a U.S. Army base in Germany over several months last fall and after he returned to the United States.

In October, the complaint said, the undercover F.B.I. employee asked Private Bridges what he would do if he and his unit were confronted in combat by ISIS fighters.

“I would probably go with the brothers,” Private Bridges replied, referring to the ISIS fighters, the complaint said.

A few days later, Private Bridges told the undercover F.B.I. employee that he had “skills not everyone else has.” When asked if he had thought about sharing that knowledge with the “brothers,” the complaint said, he responded affirmatively.

“I can teach them ways of fighting, combat techniques, movements, formations,” he said. “Like what to do when you start to get shot at.”

In a discussion in November about possible targets, according to the complaint, the undercover F.B.I. employee sent the soldier photographs of federal, local and foreign government buildings around New York City.

“Everything is so heavily guarded,” the undercover F.B.I. employee wrote. “I don’t know that it’s even possible to do an operation in NYC.”

Private Bridges responded with his advice to choose targets wisely. After the undercover F.B.I. employee then identified other government buildings in New York as potential targets, Private Bridges replied, “Not enough firepower for that,” the complaint said.

The complaint said Private Bridges also created and provided diagrams demonstrating “specific tactical maneuvers and strategy that ISIS should employ against U.S. forces, including rigging a compound with explosives for detonating when U.S. soldiers entered.”

Private Bridges is scheduled to appear before a federal magistrate judge in Georgia on Thursday and is expected to be sent to Manhattan to face trial.

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