The FBI “terrorism” arrest of a Washington, D.C., Metro police officer making headlines all over the world on Wednesday actually involved a man who sent $245 worth of gift cards to an FBI informant he thought was his friend.
Nicholas Young, a 36-year-old Virginia man, had previously tried to dissuade the informant from joining ISIS, even as the informant spent years cultivating him and waiting for him to do something illegal.
Young was accused of attempting to provide material support to the militant group the Islamic State. News reports highlighted his job prominently and announced that he had been accused of “helping ISIS” — making it sound like he was about to blow up the subway.
But Young is not alleged to have planned any act of violence. Instead, he is accused of sending $245 worth of gift cards to a government informant who had pretended to be living in Islamic State territory. The informant had been posing as a friend of Young’s for several years. He was only one of several informants who had been in touch with Young since 2010 and had seemingly tried to coax him into committing an illegal act.
In a Department of Justice press release announcing Young’s arrest on Wednesday, it was noted that since 2014, ” Young met on about 20 separate occasions with an FBI confidential human source.” This source was an informant posing as a U.S. military reservist of Middle Eastern background. The informant told Young he had become disillusioned with the Army and wanted to travel abroad and live in the territories of the Islamic State. According to the terms of the criminal complaint, the informant told Young it was “becoming an obligation for us” to travel and join ISIS.
In November 2014, Young was led to believe that the informant in the case had successfully made it abroad and was now living under ISIS rule. In an email sent to his account, an undercover FBI operative posing as the informant wrote Young a note saying, “Essa, Salaam Alaykum. I made it to [the Islamic State]! Mashallah words cannot explain …” Over the next several months, Young periodically exchanged emails with this account, which was being operated by the FBI.
On June 1, 2015, Young was interviewed by law enforcement in relation to a separate domestic violence investigation. During this interview, he told investigators several bizarre details about his personal life, including the fact that he had dressed up as “Jihadi John” the previous year at a Christmas party and was a collector of Nazi memorabilia. He also told investigators that he thought ISIS was a terrorist organization and showed them a German eagle tattoo he had gotten on his neck.
FBI agents interviewed him again several times in December of that year, asking him about his previous contact with the man who had been their informant. Young told them that he had not been in touch with him for some time and had no up-to-date contact information for him, adding that he had lost touch with the man after he’d taken a “vacation trip” to Turkey.
In April 2016, an FBI undercover agent contacted Young again from the informant’s email account and told him to download a mobile messaging application. A few months later, in July, the FBI contacted Young through that application while still posing as the informant and told him that circumstances in Islamic State territory were “better than the news reports portrays.” The undercover agent, who Young thought was his friend, subsequently asked Young if he could send him some gift card codes that could be used to purchase messaging accounts for international communications.
Young told the agent that “[God willing] more codes will come your way,” adding with apparent concern that there were “many sting operations and set ups in this area.” A week later, an account, allegedly belonging to Young sent 22-digit gift card codes to the account operated by the undercover agent. The FBI then redeemed these gift cards for a total of $245.
The charges in this case stem entirely from this gift card transaction.
Ironically, in the communications referenced, Young evinced great concern about being targeted by informants and repeatedly warned the informant that he should be wary.
It appears from past communications that Young had also previously told FBI agents that he fought with rebels seeking to overthrow Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi in 2011.
Throughout the investigation, law enforcement agents apparently never saw fit to stop Young from carrying weapons or continuing his work, even noting that he had undertaken off-site weapons training for his job in March.
If convicted of the charges in this case, Young faces up to 20 years in prison.