Soldier charged with plotting terrorist attack against his deployed Army unit

A photo from Pvt. Ethan Phelan Melzer's iCloud account showing a white supremacist group book, mask and his Army beret. (US Attorney's Office)

A 22-year-old soldier has been charged with planning an attack on his Army unit in an indictment unsealed in federal court Monday.

Ethan Melzer of Louisville, Ky., allegedly sent sensitive details about his unit, including locations, movements and security measures, to members of an extremist organization named Order of the Nine Angles, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement issued Monday.

Melzer was charged with conspiring and attempting to murder U.S. nationals, conspiring and attempting to murder service members, providing and attempting to provide material support to terrorists and conspiring to murder and maim in a foreign country.

Melzer was arrested June 10 after the FBI and Army had discovered his plot and thwarted it in late May, the statement said.

He operated under the alias of Etil Reggad, according to the indictment.

His Army unit was not identified in the indictment nor in the statement.

“As the indictment lays out, Ethan Melzer plotted a deadly ambush on his fellow soldiers in the service of a diabolical cocktail of ideologies laced with hate and violence,” John C. Demers, assistant attorney general for national security, said in the statement.

Melzer was “motivated by racism and hatred as he attempted to carry out this ultimate act of betrayal,” said Audrey Strauss, acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, where the indictment was filed.

FBI agents found Melzer was in possession of propaganda by the Islamic State, also called ISIS, that described the attack and murder of U.S. personnel, the statement said.

The Department of Justice claimed in the statement that Melzer had voluntarily told military investigators and the FBI that he had plotted an attack with the intent of killing as many of his fellow soldiers as possible.

“Melzer also declared himself to be a traitor against the United States and described his conduct as tantamount to treason,” the statement said.

Melzer joined the Army in 2018, and the following year joined the Order of the Nine Angles, the statement said.

The group has espoused violent, neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic and satanic beliefs. It has also expressed admiration for figures such as Adolph Hitler, Osama Bin Laden and other radical Islamic jihadists.

Melzer deployed overseas in October and his unit was set to deploy abroad again in April.

After learning of the second impending deployment, Melzer sent encrypted messages to members of the Order of Nine Angles that included his unit’s location and security arrangements, the statement said.

“Melzer and his co-conspirators planned what they referred to as a ‘jihadi attack’ during the deployment, with the objective of causing a ‘mass casualty’ event victimizing his fellow service members,” the statement said.

“Melzer acknowledged in electronic communications that he could be killed during the attack, and, describing his willingness to die, wrote ‘who gives a [expletive]. . .it would be another war . . . I would’ve died successfully . . . cause [] another 10 year war in the Middle East would definitely leave a mark,’” the statement said.

He also passed on information to a purported member of the terrorist organization al-Qaida, including a promise to pass on more information once he was deployed overseas, the statement said.

The charges carry a maximum jail sentence of 20 years.

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