On Wednesday in Fairfax, Virginia, the FBI arrested Nicholas Young, a 36-year-old police officer with the Washington Metropolitan Transportation Authority, on charges of attempting to provide material support to ISIL. As we mentioned several weeks ago, the Washington, D.C. area has recently seen an uptick in men attempting to travel overseas to join ISIL, or otherwise providing support to the designated terrorist group. Within the past three months, the FBI has arrested four men from the area, including Joseph Hassan Farrokh, Mahmoud Amin Mohamed Elhassan, Bailor Jalloh, and Mohamed Jamal Khweis. By comparison, only one man, Samjir Alimehmeti, has been arrested on material support charges in New York City during the same time period.
According to the affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint, Young has been on the FBI’s radar for upwards of six years—substantially longer than most ISIL-inspired travellers or subjects. Back in September 2010, the FBI initially interviewed Young after his acquaintance, Zachary Chesser, was arrested for providing material support to al-Shabaab. Young claimed he was shocked by the charges and thought of it as his personal and religious duty to report any terrorist activity.
Shortly after this interview, and unbeknownst to him, Young did begin to report extremist activity to the FBI. According to the government, he began meeting with an FBI undercover agent in January 2011 and over the course of a year, verbalized several alarming plans—including his strategy to bring guns into the Alexandria courthouse and his daydreams about kidnapping and torturing the FBI agent who had previously interviewed him. Young also allegedly told the undercover agent that he had travelled to Libya in September 2011. While there, he claimed to have served with the Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade, a militia group in Libya with possible ties to Al Qaeda. Along with Jalloh, Young is one of the few men arrested by the FBI in recent months who have actually previously travelled overseas and made contact with extremist groups before returning to the United States. During many of these meetings, Young and the undercover agent were joined by Amine El Khalifi, a friend of Young's who was later arrested by the FBI in February 2012 after attempting to conduct a suicide attack in the U.S. Capitol Building.
Perhaps the most alarming tidbit from the affidavit is that until Wednesday, Young was employed as a police officer with the Washington Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Young is the first law enforcement officer to be arrested for material support in recent memory, although we’ve seen several men, including Jalloh and Nicholas Teausant, who have been affiliated with the military. Perhaps playing off this recent trend, the FBI source who began meeting with Young in 2014, posed as a U.S. military reservist of Middle Eastern descent, disillusioned by having had to fight against Muslims during a deployment to Iraq.
Over the course of their 20 meetings, the source and Young planned the source’s travel to Syria to join ISIL. Young’s experience as a police officer came in handy, as he was able to explain to the source how to avoid law enforcement detection and, ironically how the FBI recruits sources. The government alleges that Young advised the source to get in contact with ISIL members online and to tell authorities he was taking a vacation as part of a tour group. Additionally, he made plans to protect the source following the source's departure from the United States. According to Young, law enforcement would undoubtedly look through the source’s phone records once his absence became noticeable. In order to throw the government off his trail, Young planned to text the source asking him if he was back from his vacation and instructed the source not to respond, the government alleges.
Young the took the source to a FedEx store where they set up new email accounts in anticipation of the source's travel. The source would in fact never actually leave the United States, but instead turned over this email account to the FBI, who began posing as the source in Syria. Young continued to go to the FedEx store to email the source, whom he believed was in Syria fighting for ISIL.
Young was also kept himself busy after the source's departure by participating in firearms training provided by another MTPD officer. While perhaps not as much of a gun enthusiast as the three men recently arrested in Florida, he allegedly brought a large amount of ammunition to the training and operated several of his own firearms. Although, when interviewed, he continued to tell the FBI he was unaware of the source’s whereabouts, he oddly divulged to law enforcement that the previous Halloween, he dressed up as “Jihadi John,” which entailed carrying around an orange jumpsuit stuffed with paper to portray a headless hostage.
Last month, Young finally sealed his fate when he sent the FBI employee posing as the source $245 in gift cards to help ISIL pay for mobile messaging with their supporters in the West. The FBI redeemed the gift cards and arrested Young several days later.
Meanwhile, earlier in the week and halfway across the country in a federal court in the Southern District of Ohio, 22 year-old Christopher Cornell pleaded guilty to one count of attempting to kill government employees, one count of possession of a firearm in furtherance of violence, and one count of attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization.
According to the Justice Department’s press release, Cornell was originally charged by an indictment in January 2015. In May 2015, he was additionally charged by superseding indictment with attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization.
In the statement of facts accompanying his plea agreement, Cornell admitted that he had planned to travel to Washington, D.C. in order to conduct an attack during the State of the Union in 2015. At the time of his arrest, less than a week before the event, he had conducted online research of weapons and the construction of bombs. Additionally, Cornell admitted that he possessed two semi-automatic rifles and approximately 600 rounds of ammunition. After his arrest Cornell posted online a call for others to join him in violent jihad against the United states and its citizens on behalf of ISIL