An Ohio man today pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization and attempting to murder U.S. military service members based on his efforts to help the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) to attack and kill U.S. soldiers in the Middle East.
Cole Bridges, aka Cole Gonzales, 22, of Stow, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Lewis J. Liman. According to court documents, Bridges joined the U.S. Army in approximately September 2019 and was assigned as a cavalry scout in the Third Infantry Division based in Fort Stewart, Georgia. Beginning in at least 2019, Bridges began researching and consuming online propaganda promoting jihadists and their violent ideology. Bridges also expressed his support for ISIS and jihad on social media. In or about October 2020, Bridges began communicating with an FBI online covert employee (the OCE), who was posing as an ISIS supporter in contact with ISIS fighters in the Middle East. During these communications, Bridges expressed his frustration with the U.S. military and his desire to aid ISIS. Bridges then provided training and guidance to purported ISIS fighters who were planning attacks, including advice about potential targets in New York City. Bridges also provided the OCE with portions of a U.S. Army training manual and guidance about military combat tactics, for use by ISIS.
In or about December 2020, Bridges began to supply the OCE with instructions for the purported ISIS fighters on how to attack U.S. forces in the Middle East. Among other things, Bridges diagrammed specific military maneuvers intended to help ISIS fighters maximize the lethality of attacks on U.S. troops. Bridges further provided advice about the best way to fortify an ISIS encampment to repel an attack by U.S. Special Forces, including by wiring certain buildings with explosives to kill the U.S. troops. Then, in January 2021, Bridges provided the OCE with a video of himself in his U.S. Army body armor standing in front of a flag often used by ISIS fighters and making a gesture symbolic of support for ISIS. Approximately a week later, Bridges sent a second video in which Bridges, using a voice manipulator, narrated a propaganda speech in support of the anticipated ambush by ISIS on U.S. troops.
Attempting to provide material support to ISIS carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and attempting to murder U.S. military service members carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Bridges is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 2.
Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, U.S. Attorney Damian Williams for the Southern District of New York and Assistant Director Robert R. Wells of the FBI Counterterrorism Division made the announcement.
The FBI’s New York Joint Terrorism Task Force, which primarily consists of investigators and analysts from the FBI, the New York City Police Department, and over 50 other federal, state and local agencies, is investigating the case. The U.S. Army Counterintelligence, the FBI Washington Field Office, the FBI Atlanta Field Office and its Savannah Resident Agency, the FBI Cleveland Field Office, the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Georgia, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command and the U.S. Army Third Infantry Division provided valuable assistance.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sam Adelsberg and Matthew Hellman for the Southern District of New York and Trial Attorney Michael Dittoe of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section are prosecuting the case.