January 20, 2021
Cole James Bridges, 20, allegedly went into an online forum and chatted with a person he thought was with ISIS, but was in fact an undercover FBI agent.
The “Tribute in Light” shines in the sky over Manhattan’s skyline on Sept. 11, 2019 in New York. Johannes Eisele / AFP – Getty Images file
By Jonathan Dienst, Tom Winter and Elisha Fieldstadt | NBC News
A U.S. soldier was arrested Tuesday for allegedly saying he wanted to help ISIS strike the 9/11 Memorial in New York City and attempting to help ISIS to target U.S. soldiers in the Middle East, according to senior law enforcement officials.
The officials say Cole James Bridges, 20, from Stow, Ohio, allegedly went into an online forum and chatted with a person he thought was with ISIS, but was in fact an FBI undercover agent.
Bridges is currently assigned to Fort Stewart in Georgia with the 3rd infantry division of the Army. He was arrested on charges of attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization and attempting to murder U.S. military service members. He faces up to 40 years in prison.
A criminal complaint alleges that Bridges started “researching and consuming online propaganda promoting jihadists and their violent ideology” and expressing his support for ISIS on social media beginning in at least 2019. He joined the Army in September of that year.
In October, he started talking with an undercover FBI agent posing as an ISIS supporter in contact with ISIS fighters in the Middle East.
Bridges expressed his frustration with the Army and gave the undercover agent guidance for attacking U.S. soil, “including advice about potential targets in New York City, such as the 9/11 Memorial,” according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York.
He also handed over U.S. Army training material and “guidance about military combat tactics, for use by ISIS,” the statement said.
In December of 2020, Bridges started supplying the agent with instructions for ISIS fighters to attack U.S. forces in the Middle East. In one instance, he told the agent how to wire some ISIS buildings with explosives to kill U.S. troops, according to the statement. Bridges also “diagrammed specific military maneuvers intended to help ISIS fighters maximize the lethality of attacks on U.S.”
Earlier this month, Bridges sent the agent a video of himself in body armor, standing in front of an ISIS flag and making a gesture symbolic of ISIS support.
Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a statement, “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.“
FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. said, “Bridges could have chosen a life of honorable service, but instead he traded it for the possibility of a lengthy prison sentence.”
Attempts to reach a possible attorney for Bridges were unsuccessful Tuesday afternoon.
He is expected to appear in federal court in Georgia on Thursday.
Jonathan Dienst is a reporter for WNBC-TV in New York, leading its investigative reporting team and covering justice and law enforcement issues.
Tom Winter is a New York-based correspondent covering crime, courts, terrorism and financial fraud on the East Coast for the NBC News Investigative Unit.
Elisha Fieldstadt is a breaking news reporter for NBC News.