Former U.S. Army soldier pleads guilty to attempt to aid Islamic State group kill U.S. soldiers, plot attacks in NYC

 June 16, 2023

Former U.S. Army Private Cole Bridges, 22, pled guilty in a federal court on Wednesday to the felony crimes of attempting to provide support to the Islamic State group and of attempting to aid that terrorist organization in killing other U.S. service members, according to Fox News.

Bridges was busted in 2021 when it was revealed that the individual he had been talking to online, who he thought was an Islamic State group supporter with connections to the actual organization in the Middle East, was actually an undercover FBI agent.

"Traitorous conduct" a "betrayal of his comrades and his country"

A press release Wednesday from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York announced the guilty plea from Bridges with regard to the two charges he faced -- "attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization and attempting to murder U.S. military service members."

"As he admitted in court today, Cole Bridges attempted to orchestrate a murderous ambush on his fellow soldiers in service of ISIS and its violent ideology," U.S. Attorney Damien Williams said in a statement. "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."

The two charges that Bridges pleaded guilty to each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, meaning he could face up to 40 years behind bars, though the Fox News report suggested that it was more likely that Bridges would receive a 10-year prison sentence when his punishment is eventually determined at a sentencing hearing in November.

The attempt to aid the Islamic State group

Bridges, who also went by the alias "Cole Gonzales," first joined the U.S. Army in September 2019 and was assigned as a cavalry scout to the Third Infantry Division stationed at Fort Stewart in Georgia, shortly after which he began "researching and consuming online propaganda promoting jihadists" and even "expressed his support for ISIS and jihad on social media."

By October 2020, he was regularly communicating with the undercover FBI agent that he thought was a jihadist supporter with connections to the Islamic State group and "expressed his frustration with the U.S. military and his desire to aid ISIS," including by helping to plot attacks on targets in New York City, such as the 9/11 memorial.

That aid also included the provision of portions of U.S. Army training manuals on combat tactics and military maneuvers for the purpose of helping Islamic State group fighters maximize U.S. casualties in planned ambush attacks or by fortifying encampments to withstand an assault by U.S. forces.

Bridges also reportedly went so far as to record his own jihadist propaganda videos in support of the terrorist group based in Iraq and Syria.

Arrested and charged in January 2021

At the time of Bridges' arrest in January 2021, the then-U.S. Attorney for Manhattan, Audrey Strauss, said in a statement, "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. Our troops risk their lives for our country, but they should never face such peril at the hands of one of their own."

The investigation that ensnared Bridges was a joint operation that involved the FBI, the New York City Police Department, and the U.S. Army Counterintelligence Authority.

"Bridges is charged with giving military advice and guidance on how to kill fellow soldiers to individuals he thought were part of ISIS," then-Assistant Attorney General John Demers said. "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. 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."

Dermot Shea, at that time the commissioner of the NYPD, said, "As alleged in this federal complaint, Cole Bridges violated his oath and used his position of privilege against his fellow citizens. This arrest, and the work of the FBI’s New York [Joint Terrorism Task Force] and all of our law enforcement partners, will ensure that this individual faces justice."

"Army Counterintelligence’s top priority is protecting the force so it can remain committed to fighting and winning our Nation’s wars," then-Director Roy Cochran said. "The results of this investigation show the efforts of Army Counterintelligence agents working alongside our partners in the FBI. We are dedicated to protecting our Soldiers, Civilians, and Families from terrorist acts and insider threats."

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