A former police officer for the D.C. subway system was found guilty Monday of trying to help the Islamic State, making him the first law enforcement officer nationwide to be convicted in a terrorism case.
Nicholas Young, a 38-year-old Muslim convert from Alexandria, Virginia, faces up to 60 years in prison. After only a few hours deliberation, a jury in federal court in Alexandria found he obstructed justice and offered financial support to a friend he thought had joined the terrorist organization.
In fact, the man was an undercover informant who befriended Young as part of an FBI sting operation.
“Nicholas Young swore an oath to protect and defend, and instead violated the public’s trust by attempting to support ISIS,” U.S. Attorney Dana Boente said in a statement.
Young was under scrutiny by the FBI for six of the 13 years he patrolled the public transportation system of the nation’s capital. He used his vacation time to join the civil war in Libya in 2011, leaving the FBI wondering whether he fought with a terrorist group, and watched Islamic State videos while on break. He was commended by one U.S. Attorney’s Office for his work as a police officer, only to be put under grand jury investigation by another.
He is likely the first person convicted of backing the Islamic State to consider himself a conservative, venerate former congressman Ron Paul, and express interest in joining the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
But the paradox at the heart of the trial was Young’s interest in Islamic radicalism and Nazism. Young dressed up as an SS officer in World War II reenactments and had a tattoo on his arm celebrating his unit. He also collected literature advocating violent jihad and watched Islamic State videos.
Prosecutors posited that virulent anti-Semitism connected the two seemingly incompatible forms of extremism. A former roommate testified that Young, during a school project that took them to a white supremacist meeting, told him, “‘Don’t discount the Muslims’ ability to fight against the Jews.’ ”
On Young’s computer was evidence that he had researched historical links between Nazis and Muslims. A law enforcement officer who met him while working undercover said Young and his friends often insulted Jewish people.
Young did not testify, but his attorneys argued Nazism was emphasized to obscure the coercive nature of the investigation.
In interviews earlier this year, Young and his sister said that prosecutors had twisted comments made in jest and isolated the most incendiary artifacts from a huge historical collection.
Born and raised in northern Virginia, Young attended George Mason University, where he participated in R.O.T.C. and the Muslim Student Association. He left college without a degree and worked in security before becoming a Metro Transit Police officer in 2003.
While he was critical of American power in the Middle East, Young insisted he never celebrated civilian deaths or encouraged an informant he knew as Mohammed, or “Mo,” to join the Islamic State.
“Follow your conscience,” he told him, according to defense attorneys. “You can change your mind.”
But in online conversations with the informant shown in court, Young did seem to at least excuse terrorist attacks as justifiable responses to Western provocations.
“All they have to do is be ‘nice,’ like not killing us,” he wrote after a terrorist attack in Paris. “You can’t complain about that knuckle sandwich you were asking for,” he wrote after another.
And when Mo said he was determined to go to Syria, Young gave him advice and then lied to the FBI. He asked after people he had met in Libya and suggested the Islamic State was Syria’s best option.
“The West and its puppet coalition are almost competing with Russia to see who can pummel that country the most,” he wrote. “Everyone needs to join under one banner to repel them.”
Finally, when Mo last summer said Islamic State fighters needed Google Play gift cards so they could correspond with recruits on encrypted messaging applications, Young sent $245 worth.
Young first raised the suspicions of his colleagues in law enforcement in 2010, at a dinner party where a friend of his from college was being trailed by a an undercover officer, according to testimony.
The officer, using the pseudonym Khalil Sullivan, testified that he was eventually told to stop talking to Young and focus on another target. A couple years later, Mo met Young while informing on a man named Peshwaz Waise who was later arrested in Texas for making terrorist threats.
In between, Young went to Libya and fought dictator Moammar Gaddafi. When he returned he was interviewed by FBI agents, one of whom repeatedly encouraged him to become an informant himself.
However, at trial Special Agent Nick Caslen said that approach was a “ruse” designed to keep Young in the FBI’s sights.
Young was aware that he was likely being watched. When he and Mo talked in person, he took the battery out of his phone. He later corresponded with Mo through an email account he accessed at a FedEx store, and he sent the gift card codes through a new phone and new account. He owned a large array of weapons and a scanner to check his home for recording devices.
“I don’t trust anyone; I’m suspicious of everyone,” he said in one recorded conversation. Later, he added, “In some office, I know our pictures are up on some wall.”
An attorney for Young declined to comment after the verdict. He is set to be sentenced on Feb. 23.
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