A Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority police officer faces terrorism charges in the first-ever case to ensnare a US law enforcement officer.
According to an FBI affidavit, Nicholas Young, of Fairfax, Va., is accused of buying about $250 in gift cards last month and sending the cards' codes to a person he believed to be an affiliate of the self-proclaimed Islamic State – in actuality an undercover FBI agent – who could use them to purchase mobile apps to facilitate communication in Syria.
Mr. Young is charged on one count of attempting to provide material support to a terrorist group after being arrested Wednesday morning. His initial court appearance is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon in Alexandria, Va.
Court documents say Young, who had worked with the Metro police authority from 2003 until his firing on Wednesday, had been interviewed by law enforcement as early as 2010 about his relationship with Zachary Chesser, according to the Associated Press. Mr. Chesser was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2011 after calling for jihadists to attack the creators of the TV series "South Park" over an episode he said had insulted the prophet Muhammed.
The documents show Young to have been in contact with FBI agens and informants since 2011, when he traveled to Libya to join the armed uprising that deposed dictator Muammar Qaddafi, reported CNN. In 2014, Young began meeting with an FBI informant who claimed he would be traveling overseas to join ISIS in Syria, after which agents opened up direct electronic communication with Young while posing as the informant. Young is alleged to have given the source advice on how to avoid detection by authorities when traveling abroad to join the Islamic State.
Young is also alleged to have met several times with Amine El Khalifi, a resident of Alexandria, Va., who was sentenced to 30 years in prison in 2012 for plotting a suicide bomb attack on the US Capitol building.
Sting tactics by the FBI have come under fire in the past from civil-liberties groups who accuse agents of goading some suspects into acting on beliefs, noted The Christian Science Monitor in 2015.
"US officials have used confidential informants and undercover agents to help assess whether a particular individual poses a threat to public safety or national security. If so, a quick sting operation can neutralize the threat," wrote Warren Richey for the Monitor.
But others, the article noted, object that "such tactics often place the FBI in the role of inventing fake terror plots that create and ensnare 'fake' terrorists. It is a distinction frequently glossed over in sensational media coverage playing up the disrupted 'plots. ' "
"In many instances, these people have espoused these opinions for a long time without ever actually taking action beyond just speaking about them," said John Robbins, executive director of the Massachusetts chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations, in an interview with the Monitor.
Washington Metro police say the investigation into Young began with concerns reported by the department.
"Obviously, the allegations in this case are profoundly disturbing. They're disturbing to me, and they're disturbing to everyone who wears the uniform," said Metro general manager Paul Wiedefeld, according to the Associated Press.
This report contains material from the Associated Press.