- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 3, 2016

A Metro Transit Police officer was arrested and charged Wednesday with trying to provide support for the Islamic State — marking the first case in which a U.S. law enforcement officer has been accused of aiding the terrorist group.

The Justice Department said Nicholas Young, 36, who has worked for the Metro Transit Police Department since 2003, gave advice on crossing the border into Syria and evading detection to a person he believed was a U.S. military reservist who wanted to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State.

Last month, he sent $245 worth of gift cards for mobile-messaging accounts to the man, who actually was a confidential informant for the FBI, authorities said.

Though the actions that led to the criminal charges are said to have occurred from 2014 to 2016, an FBI spokeswoman said Mr. Young first landed on investigators’ radar in 2009, when Metro Transit officials reported “suspicious” activities by Mr. Young.

An investigation was opened into Mr. Young in 2010, the same year that authorities interviewed him as a result of his friendship with Zachary Chesser.

Chesser, another Northern Virginia man, ultimately pleaded guilty to charges including making threats against the creators of “South Park” after Comedy Central aired an episode of the TV show that he believed was offensive to Islam.

Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said there was no evidence that Mr. Young posed a threat to the subway system or its riders.

Authorities involved in the case said Mr. Young never expressed interest in carrying out any sort of attack in the United States and that he was under constant surveillance from the time he landed on investigators’ radar until his arrest Wednesday morning at Metro headquarters.

“Over the last six years, he’s been under constant surveillance and has been interviewed by the FBI overtly and kept in contact with covertly,” said Joshua Stueve, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Virginia, which brought the charges.

Metro officials fended off criticism that Mr. Young was allowed to maintain his position as a patrol officer who carried a firearm for six years while he was under investigation on suspicion of terrorist ties. They said the Metro Transit Police Department was closely involved in the investigation.

“Decisions on when the arrest would occur and the sequence of employment actions relative to the arrest were made by mutual agreement with our federal partners,” Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said. “Young was terminated immediately upon his arrest this morning. Paramount for all involved was preserving the integrity of the investigation.”

House Republican leaders sent a letter to Mr. Wiedefeld requesting additional information on any safeguards “to ensure Mr. Young was not a threat to the safety of transit system riders during the time he was under surveillance.”

The letter requested additional information on Metro’s protocol for background checks as well as documents indicating any restrictions or safeguards on Mr. Young’s access to sensitive information or locations. It was sent by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican; Rep. Ron DeSantis, Florida Republican; Rep. Mark Meadows, North Carolina Republican; and Rep. John L. Mica, Florida Republican.

Lindsay Ram, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s Washington field office, said a Metro Transit Police officer was embedded with a Joint Terrorism Task Force unit working the case and “was on every single briefing throughout the investigation.”

Mr. Young appeared at U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, on Wednesday afternoon wearing a T-shirt and slacks. During the brief hearing, a magistrate appointed him a public defender.

An 18-page affidavit supporting the criminal complaint filed against Mr. Young includes observations made by and conversations with an undercover law enforcement officer and a confidential informant. The documents state that Mr. Young traveled twice to Libya in 2011 with body armor and a Kevlar helmet. When questioned by the FBI about the travel, he told authorities that he had joined rebel forces seeking to oust dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

In addition to Chesser, the affidavit indicates that Mr. Young associated with Amine El Khalifi, who in 2012 was sentenced to 30 years in prison after he was convicted of plotting a suicide bomb attack at the U.S. Capitol.

The charge of attempting to provide support to a terrorist group that was filed against Mr. Young is related to activities between 2014 and 2016, the affidavit states. During that time, prosecutors said, Mr. Young gave a confidential informant advice on how to travel to join the Islamic State — telling him to avoid discussing his travel plans with anyone, to book a hotel and to sign up for a tour group in Turkey to avoid drawing suspicions from customs officers. He also instructed the informant on multiple occasions not to discuss online his plans to travel so he would not leave a trail for law enforcement if officials began investigating him.

In late 2014, the confidential informant led Mr. Young to believe that he had traveled to Turkey and was successful in crossing the border and joining the Islamic State, according to the affidavit. Through email conversations on accounts that the two had set up specifically to communicate with each other undetected, an FBI agent continued talking with Mr. Young — who at various points expressed interest in helping send money outside the United States. The FBI agent later asked Mr. Young if he could help provide codes for use of a mobile messaging application that the Islamic State used to communicate with potential recruits. In late July, authorities said, Mr. Young provided 22 codes for the messaging app.

The documents also provide additional information about Mr. Young’s activities while he was under government surveillance. The first time Mr. Young was interviewed by the FBI, after Chesser’s arrest, he told investigators he was shocked by the charges and would have felt a religious and moral obligation to alert authorities had he ever been aware of terrorist activities.

Mr. Young later expressed paranoia about government surveillance. He regularly took the battery out of his cellphone, and the undercover officer reported that Mr. Young indicated he would never talk about any acts he planned to carry out and that “people would find out what he was going to do after it happened.”

Mr. Young is scheduled to return to federal court for a detention hearing Friday.

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