A police officer for the US capital city's metro system was arrested Wednesday on charges that he tried to provide material support to the Islamic State jihadist group, prosecutors said.
Nicholas Young, 36, had worked for Washington's Metro Transit Police Department since 2003, the Department of Justice said in a statement. He communicated for years with undercover agents and a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) informant, discussing his knowledge and interest in terror activities, prosecutors said.
"Metro Transit Police alerted the FBI about this individual and then worked with our federal partners throughout the investigation up to and including today's arrest," Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority General Manager and CEO Paul Wiedefeld said.
"Obviously, the allegations in this case are profoundly disturbing. They're disturbing to me, and they're disturbing to everyone who wears the uniform," he said in a statement. Young met about 20 times in 2014 with the FBI informant who was posing as a US military reservist of Middle Eastern descent who wanted to join the Islamic State group, the Justice Department said.
Young allegedly gave the man advice on travel to avoid detection by law enforcement, and also told him to watch out for informants. In June 2015, Young emailed undercover FBI agents asking for advice on how to send money to the IS group, prosecutors said. Last month, he sent an undercover agent $245 in gift cards to charge mobile messaging accounts that the Islamic State group uses in its recruiting efforts. Metro officials did not say what tipped them off to Young.
He was fired from his job immediately upon his arrest, the agency said.
Young had been on law enforcement's radar since 2010, when an acquaintance was arrested on charges of trying to provide material support to a terror group. The acquaintance ultimately pleaded guilty to the charge. According to the Justice Department, Young traveled to Libya in 2011 and tried to go a second time. Baggage searches at the time found that Young was traveling with military equipment such as body armor. He told authorities he had been with rebels attempting to overthrow dictator Moamer Kadhafi. That same year, Young met several times with an undercover agent while accompanied by Amine El Khalifi, an acquaintance.
El Khalifi later pleaded guilty to charges related to his plan to carry out a suicide bomb attack on the US Capitol Building. If convicted, Young faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The White House is "mindful of the risk that is posed by homegrown extremists," spokesman Josh Earnest said.
Senator Ben Sasse, a Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, hailed the work of the FBI in apprehending Young.
"This is a sobering reminder of the vigilance required to combat crowd-sourced terror. Our enemies' old, top-down strategy no longer defines our threats," he said. "The intelligence community does not exclusively hunt card-carrying members of ISIS and al-Qaeda. Our challenge is greater and today the FBI has met it forcefully."