By Luis Arellano
A U.S. soldier stands accused of plotting a terrorist attack on the 9/11 memorial in Manhattan and working to lure his fellow soldiers to their deaths at the hands of Da’esh terrorists. Late last week U.S. authorities announced the arrest of U.S. Army private Cole Bridges who stands accused of multiple terrorism-related charges.
“ 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 […], and our partners in the Department of Defense, Bridges is in custody and facing federal terrorism charges for his alleged crimes,” said a statement from the New York United States Attorney’s Office.
He stands accused of attempting to provide material support to ISIL and of attempting to murder U.S. military personnel. If convicted, each crime carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison though actual sentencing will be left to the judge.
Bridges joined the U.S. Army in 2019 the same year that prosecutors say he began immersed in the propaganda of terrorist groups and a pledged supporter of jihadi terrorists. The young cavalry scout with the 3rd Infantry Division based at Fort Stewart, Georgia soon sought went public with his radical views. He began promoting these views online through social media and interacting on extremist forums with the name “Cole Gonzales.” On social media, Bridges used the handle “Cole Gonzales” and showed support for Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (“ISIL” or “Da’esh” as it is known in its Arabic acronym).
Court documents do not make clear the full timeline related to the case other than to say that beginning “in or about October 2020” Bridges began speaking online to someone he thought was in direct contact with ISIS fighters but, was, in fact, an online covert employee of the FBI. A source told News Talk Florida that the case was brought to the attention of the United States government in September 2020 by the Moroccan intelligence agency known as the General Directorate for Territorial Surveillance but, better known by its French initials — DGST. This organization, headed by Abdellatif Hammouchi, has worked closely with the United States on counter-terrorism efforts in the past and made the United States government aware of Bridges online activities. From September until November 2020, Bridges was located at a U.S. military base in Germany.
A detailed months-long investigation included everything from diagrams and manuals he provided to individuals online he thought were terrorists to his internet search terms which included: “us soldier shooting,” “ak 47 downright,” and “badass jihadi,” on Christmas Day 2019. Subsequently, he searched for “Green Beret Ambush” according to court records.
In interactions with an individual he thought was an ISIS affiliate, Bridges provided detailed diagrams and even training manuals to help ISIS fighters better kill American forces. He also described ways to fortify and protect an encampment against an American special forces assault through the use of planted explosives. Such a special forces assaults such as the 2019 raid on a compound that killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in Syria are a mainstay of U.S. counter-terrorism policy in the Middle East.