Cole Bridges, a 20-year-old American who joined the U.S. Army in late 2019—and who was earlier described as “a polite, responsible and trustworthy teen”—was recently arrested and faces two federal charges: “attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State group and the attempted murder of U.S. military service members.”
Earlier, in October 2020, Bridges, a convert to Islam, came into contact with an FBI online covert employee (OCE) posing as a Muslim supporter of and in contact with the Islamic State. In their communiques, Bridges made clear that his allegiance was to Islam and jihad, not America and its soldiers. According to the criminal complaint against him:
BRIDGES then provided training and guidance to purported ISIS fighters who were planning attacks, including advice about potential targets in New York City, such as the 9/11 Memorial. BRIDGES also provided the OCE with portions of a U.S. Army training manual and guidance about military combat tactics, for use by ISIS.
In or about December 2020, BRIDGES began to supply the OCE with instructions for the purported ISIS fighters on how to attack U.S. forces in the Middle East. Among other things, BRIDGES diagrammed specific military maneuvers intended to help ISIS fighters maximize the lethality of attacks on U.S. troops. BRIDGES further provided advice about the best way to fortify an ISIS encampment to repel an attack by U.S. Special Forces, including by wiring certain buildings with explosives to kill the U.S. troops. Then, in January 2021, BRIDGES provided the OCE with a video of himself in body armor standing before a flag often used by ISIS fighters and making a gesture symbolic of support for ISIS. Approximately a week later, BRIDGES sent a second video in which BRIDGES, using a voice manipulator, narrated a propaganda speech in support of the anticipated ambush by ISIS on U.S. troops.
On being asked by the OCE what he would do if his army unit engaged Islamic State fighters in combat, Bridges responded, “I would probably go with the brothers,” meaning the jihadis. On Dec. 27, after the OCE told the young convert to stay safe and avoid being “compromised,” he responded by saying he’d “either become a martyr or somehow escape the country” if that happened.
In their complaint, all of the prosecutors involved underscored the traitorous nature of Bridges’ crime: “Cole Bridges betrayed the oath he swore to defend the United States by attempting to provide ISIS with tactical military advice to ambush and kill his fellow service members,” said one, adding, “Our troops risk their lives for our country, but they should never face such peril at the hands of one of their own.” “This alleged personal and professional betrayal of comrades and country is terrible to contemplate,” said another. “Cole Bridges violated his oath and used his position of privilege against his fellow citizens,” said yet another.
This shock is unwarranted; Bridges is hardly the first American Muslim to betray his nation and fellow brothers-in-arms.
Recall Major Nidal Hasan, who was “very upfront about being a Muslim first and an American second.” Instead of being deployed to a Muslim nation—his “worst nightmare”—in 2009, he went on a killing spree in Fort Hood, where he murdered thirteen fellow soldiers.
Then there was Nasser Abdo, an American soldier arrested in 2011 for planning on using a “weapon of mass destruction” to massacre his fellow soldiers. In 2010, he had applied for conscientious objector status pending his deployment to Afghanistan, and the Army approved his discharge. “I don’t believe I can involve myself in an army that wages war against Muslims,” he once said. “I don’t believe I could sleep at night if I take part, in any way, in the killing of a Muslim…. I can’t deploy with my unit to Afghanistan and participate in the war — I can’t both deploy and be a Muslim.”
And of course, there was sergeant Hasan Akbar, who was convicted of murdering two American soldiers and wounding fourteen in a grenade attack in Kuwait: “He launched the attack because he was concerned U.S. troops would kill fellow Muslims in Iraq.” Previous to the attack, he confessed to his diary: “I may not have killed any Muslims, but being in the army is the same thing. I may have to make a choice very soon on who to kill.”
All of this goes back to one pivotal Islamic doctrine, known in Arabic as al-wala’ w’al bar’a. Perhaps best translated as “loyalty and enmity,” this inherently tribalistic doctrine calls on Muslims to maintain absolute loyalty to one another while hating and seeking to undermine all non-Muslims—“even if they be their fathers, sons, brothers, or kin” (Koran 60:4; 58:22).
In the words of Koran 3:28, “Let believers not take for friends and allies infidels rather than believers: and whoever does this shall have no relationship left with Allah—unless you but guard yourselves against them, taking precautions.”
The words translated here as “guard” and “precaution” are derived from the Arabic word taqu, from the trilateral root w-q-y—the same root that gives us the word taqiyya, the Islamic doctrine that permits Muslims to deceive non-Muslims whenever under their authority.
Ibn Kathir (d. 1373), the author of one of the most authoritative commentaries on the Koran, explains taqiyya in the context of verse 3:28 as follows: “Whoever at any time or place fears … evil [from non-Muslims] may protect himself through outward show.” As proof of this, he quotes Muhammad’s close companion Abu Darda, who once said, “Let us grin in the face of some people while our hearts curse them.”
Muhammad ibn Jarir at-Tabari (d. 923), the author of another standard commentary on the Koran, interprets verse 3:28 as follows:
If you [Muslims] are under their [non-Muslims’] authority, fearing for yourselves, behave loyally to them with your tongue while harboring inner animosity for them … [know that] Allah has forbidden believers from being friendly or on intimate terms with the infidels rather than other believers—except when infidels are above them [in authority]. Should that be the case, let them act friendly towards them while preserving their religion.
The significance of Islam’s doctrine of Loyalty and Enmity—which is as ironclad in Islam as the so-called Five Pillars—concerning questions of national allegiance and security can hardly be clearer.