A U.S. service member has been arrested and charged in connection to an alleged plot to conspire with ISIS to conduct ambush attacks on his fellow soldiers, according to a Department of Justice statement.
Pfc. Cole James Bridges, a cavalry scout assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart in Georgia, allegedly “attempted to provide military tactical training and advice to ISIS to facilitate the efforts of ISIS fighters to repel U.S. Special Forces and kill American soldiers” in Syria, according to a federal criminal complaint filed in the Southern District of New York.
While his radicalization apparently started as early as September 2019, Bridges — who also went by “Cole Gonzalez” — wasn’t on the FBI’s radar until he conducted a series of communications with undercover agents and a confidential source “posing as fellow ISIS adherents” over an encrypted messaging app starting in October 2020
During these conversations, Bridges established himself as “a supporter of ISIS and its mission to establish a global caliphate,” according to the complaint, at one point suggesting that an undercover agent who he thought was an ISIS fighter scout out the 9/11 Memorial in New York City for a potential attack on United States soil.
According to the FBI, Bridges “expressed his allegiance to ISIS and its radical jihadist ideology” while he was deployed with his unit overseas to Germany and upon his return to the United States, telling agents that “if his Army unit was involved in combat with ISIS fighters, he would betray his unit and join the ISIS fighters.”
In terms of material support, Bridgers provided, among other things, “tactical training materials, and advice for use by ISIS against American forces, including a clip from a combat training video, images of pages from a U.S. Army field manual regarding troop movements and combat tactics, and diagrams that Bridgers created 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,” according to the complaint.
During one such exchange on Dec. 27, he provided illustrations demonstrating fire and movement by a four-man team, down to the positions and roles of individual soldiers.
“As Bridges sent the diagrams, he continued to explain the depicted troop movements, including how the ISIS fighters should fire, when they should use grenades, and how to avoid U.S. Army grenades,” reads the criminal complaint.
During that particular exchange, Bridges told the undercover FBI agents, who he believed were ISIS militants, to maintain distance in their ranks, called dispersion, “because if the enemy throws a grenade then it won’t kill anyone,” he said, before providing specifics on the blast radius of “a particular type of U.S. Army grenade so that the ISIS fighters could avoid it.'”
In another exchange, an unnamed FBI agent sent Bridges a message telling him that U.S. forces had killed ISIS “brothers,” including the brother “most knowledgeable” about combat tactics and that he was seeking advice about how to protect a leader from another ambush of their compound by “American forces.”
Bridges responded in detail: “I mean the best they can do is rig the house with explosives And have a group of brothers observe Until the raid starts and then just blow the house up. I mean if they want to have defensive positions they have to be in places where the enemy [i.e., the U.S. soldiers] will never suspect them of being. Because the special forces have these houses observed before a raid and they get as much info about everything.”
Bridges faces two charges: attempted provision of material support to designated foreign terrorist organizations, and attempted murder of U.S. military service members.
“Bridges is charged with giving military advice and guidance on how to kill fellow soldiers to individuals he thought were part of ISIS,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers. “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.”
James Clark contributed reporting.