A veteran police officer with one of the nation’s most prominent transit systems appeared in federal court today in connection to charges that he tried to help ISIS.
Authorities believe that officer Nicholas Young, while working for the Metro Transit Police Department in Washington, D.C. — a community he swore to protect — was trying to assist ISIS operatives find more ways to communicate in secret.
Young, thin and bearded, appeared briefly in court in Alexandria, Virginia, this afternoon, arriving in handcuffs and wearing what appeared to be pants from his police uniform and a white T-shirt.
Asked by the judge whether he has a lawyer or would like one appointed, he paused and eventually said, “I’d like an attorney.” He did not enter a plea.
A second hearing is set for Thursday at 2 p.m., at which time he will have an attorney to discuss when to hold detention and preliminary hearings.
If convicted of the charges against him, Young faces up to 20 years in prison.
Young allegedly purchased technology-related items to send to the ISIS operatives so they could evade authorities when contacting one another.
Instead of allegedly engaging with true ISIS associates, however, Young was actually in touch with FBI informants and agents from the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force in Washington, which has been conducting a long undercover investigation in the case, officials said.
There was “no pending threat to the D.C. transportation system,” a source emphasized to ABC News, which first reported the arrest.
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority CEO Paul Wiedefeld sent a note to colleagues this morning, notifying them of the case. Metro transit police “initiated” the probe into Young, and the FBI has been investigating for “several years” since, Wiedefeld said, adding that Young has been fired, “effective immediately.”
Law enforcement first interviewed Young in September 2010 in connection with an acquaintance, Zachary Chesser, who had been arrested and subsequently pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organization, according to the Justice Department. Over the next several years, in interactions with undercover officers and an FBI informant — many of them recorded — Young repeatedly expressed his interest in terrorism-related activity, the Justice Department said today.
In several meetings in 2011, Young met with an undercover law enforcement officer and one of Young’s “acquaintances,” Amine El Khalifi, who has since been arrested and pleaded guilty for plotting to detonate a suicide bomb at the U.S. Capitol, the Justice Department alleged.
After Khalifi’s arrest in 2012, Young allegedly told the informant that Muslims should try to uncover the informants who led to Khalifi’s arrest.
Since then, Young has allegedly praised prominent terrorism operations around the world.
In 2014, Young allegedly dressed for Halloween as Jihadi John, the British man who appeared in several ISIS beheading videos. Young told authorities that, as part of his costume, he stuffed an orange jumpsuit with paper to portray a headless hostage and carried it with him at a party he attended, according to charging documents filed in the case.
Last year, after the deadly attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine in France, Young allegedly messaged an informant, saying, “Hopefully now people understand there are some lines you don’t cross.”
And this January, after a team of ISIS-trained attackers killed scores in Paris in November, Young allegedly said that the attackers were misunderstood and that the assaults gave the West a taste of what Muslims face every day, according to the charging documents.
In 2011, Young traveled to Libya with body armor, a Kevlar helmet and other military-style items, according to the Justice Department. He told FBI agents he had joined rebels looking to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in Libya, the Justice Department said.
In 2014, Young allegedly met 20 times with an FBI informant posing as a U.S. military reservist who had joined ISIS in Syria. The next year, Young allegedly emailed the informant asking for advice on how to send money to ISIS members.
The FBI then interviewed Young under the guise of an investigation into the reservist. Young allegedly told the FBI that the reservist had left the United States for a vacation in Turkey.
Last week, Young allegedly sent $245 worth of gift card codes to an FBI undercover officer, saying in a message, “Respond to verify receipt … may not answer depending on when as this device will be destroyed after all are sent to prevent the data being possibly seen on this end in the case of something unfortunate.”
Young, a 12-year veteran of the transit police force, was arrested this morning while at transit police headquarters in Washington, charged with attempting to provide material support to ISIS. He lives in Fairfax, Virginia, outside Washington.
In his 2011 meetings with an FBI informant, Young allegedly said that he used to torture animals as a child and that he despised the FBI. He spoke in one meeting about tracking down the address of an FBI agent and then kidnapping and torturing her, prosecutors alleged.
In the past three years, more than 100 Americans have been charged with trying to join ISIS or are suspected of supporting the group in some other way.