An Army private first class has pleaded guilty to plotting the murder of U.S. service members on behalf of the Islamic State, government prosecutors announced Wednesday.
The soldier, Cole Bridges, also pleaded guilty to trying to provide material assistance to ISIS. A months-long FBI investigation into Bridges’ social media posts culminated in the 22-year-old Ohio native’s arrest in January 2021.
Bridges joined the Army in September 2019, according to court documents. He served as a cavalry scout in the 3rd Infantry Division based at Fort Stewart, Georgia.
In August 2020, in the weeks leading up to a three-month rotation to Germany, Bridges began posting jihadist propaganda on his social media accounts under the moniker “Cole Gonzales,” prosecutors claim. Screenshots of Bridges’ Facebook page feature quotes from Salafist preachers exalting “war between Islam and Kufr [infidels]” and photos of his M4 rifle captioned with verses and emojis popular with the Islamic State group.
An FBI agent posing as an ISIS sympathizer approached Bridges online in September 2020. The aspiring jihadist developed a rapport with the investigator in the ensuing months. By mid-October, court documents show, Bridges began advising the phony fighter and his crew on how to stage an attack, flaunting his training and combat expertise. Later that month, he sent illustrations of battlefield maneuvers from the U.S. Army Field Manual accompanied with detailed explanations over encrypted messaging apps.
The following month, Bridges allegedly outlined potential attack targets in New York City, including the city’s 9/11 memorial. In December, he walked the undercover agents through a potential attack on American troops stationed in the Middle East, providing color-coded unit schematics and tactical formations. At one point, they sent Bridges a grainy satellite image of an imaginary ISIS desert compound targeted by American forces and requested advice; Bridges returned a marked-up diagram detailing where the fighters should position their RPGs, machine guns, and booby traps.
Bridges faces up to 40 years in prison. He is slated for sentencing on Nov. 2.
Jaime Moore-Carrillo is an editorial fellow for Military Times and Defense News. A Boston native, Jaime graduated with degrees in international affairs, history, and Arabic from Georgetown University, where he served as a senior editor for the school's student-run paper, The Hoya.