By Julia Harte
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Washington transit police officer was arrested on Wednesday on charges he attempted to help the Islamic State, the U.S. Justice Department said, the first member of law enforcement facing such charges involving a government-designated terrorist group.
The suspect, Nicholas Young, 36, of Fairfax, Virginia, is alleged to have sent codes for gift cards worth $245 (£184) to an FBI informant in July. The cards were intended for mobile-messaging accounts that Islamic State uses to recruit its followers, according to court records.
Young believed the informant was an acquaintance who was working with the militant group, the documents said.
Young, an officer with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority since 2003, had been on the radar of federal law enforcement since 2010, according to an affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Virginia.
Metro authorities said Young was fired after his arrest on Wednesday.
According to court records, he did not have a lawyer as of Wednesday afternoon.
Young is the first law enforcement officer charged with attempting to provide material support to a designated terrorist organisation, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The Justice Department has brought Islamic State-related charges against more than 90 people since 2014.
Young did not pose a threat to Metro riders or employees during the six years he was under federal surveillance, said Joshua Stueve, a spokesman for the Eastern Virginia U.S. Attorney's Office.
In 2014, he met several times with an undercover FBI agent who was posing as an eager recruit of Islamic State, according to the affidavit. He advised the agent about how to evade law enforcement as he left the United States to join the militant group.
Young sent the gift card codes after the informant told him that the group needed help setting up mobile messaging accounts, according to the affidavit. He then promised to cover his tracks: "Gonna eat the SIM card. Have a good day."
Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld called the charges "profoundly disturbing." In a statement, he said transit police alerted the FBI about Young and cooperated with federal agents during the investigation.
Young travelled to Libya in 2011 to support rebels trying to overthrow dictator Muammar Gaddafi, the affidavit said.
That year, he also discussed with informants ways of smuggling guns into the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia, where he will appear on Wednesday.
Seamus Hughes, an expert on U.S. extremism at George Washington University in Washington, called the case against Young typical of those brought against homegrown extremists since it involved an informant.
The rise of the Islamic State "seems to have pushed him from just radical to mobilized to action," he said.
(Additional reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)