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2-13-04

Soldier Accused of Trying to Aid Al Qaeda

FORT LEWIS, Wash. Feb. 13 — A National Guardsman tried to reach Al -Qaeda operatives through the Internet, offering the group information on U.S. military capabilities and weaponry, defense officials said.

Spc. Ryan G. Anderson, 26, was arrested Thursday, just days before he was to leave for duty in Iraq. He is a tank crew member from the National Guard's 81st Armor Brigade and converted to Islam during the last five years, officials said.

He was being held at Fort Lewis "pending criminal charges of aiding the enemy by wrongfully attempting to communicate and give intelligence to the Al Qaeda terrorist network," said Army Lt. Col. Stephen Barger. It was not immediately clear if Anderson had a lawyer.

Anderson, from Lynnwood, was taken into custody without incident as part of a joint investigation by the Army, Department of Justice and the FBI, Barger said.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, defense officials said Anderson signed on to extremist chat rooms and tried to get in touch with Al Qaeda operatives. It is unclear how the U.S. government got wind of his alleged offer, but authorities began monitoring his communications, the officials said. It does not appear he transmitted any information to Al Qaeda.

Jack Roberts, a neighbor, said he talked to Anderson's wife, Erin, after federal agents left the couple's apartment on Thursday.

"She was pretty damned shocked, as I was," Roberts told the Herald of Everett.

Phone messages left by The Associated Press at the couple's apartment were not immediately returned Thursday.

The 81st Armor Brigade, a 4,200-member unit, is set to depart for Iraq. It is the biggest deployment for the Washington Army National Guard since World War II.

The brigade has been training at Fort Lewis since November. Eighty percent of the soldiers 3,200 are from Washington state, and 1,000 are from guard units in California and Minnesota.

It includes two tank battalions, a mechanized infantry battalion, engineers, support troops, artillery and an intelligence company.

Washington State University spokeswoman Charleen Taylor said Anderson was a 2002 graduate with a degree in history. Anderson graduated from high school in Everett in 1995, the Herald reported, and studied military history with an emphasis on the Middle East at Washington State.

In May 1998, when he was 20, Anderson was pounced on by Snohomish County sheriff's deputies as he carried a couple of rifles past a grade school near his home, the Herald reported. He was released quickly after authorities determined he had not broken any laws.

That incident happened when officials were particularly nervous about school safety, because it was just after 15-year-old Kip Kinkel killed two students and wounded more than 20 other people at his high school in Springfield, Ore. Kinkel also had killed his parents.

Anderson is the second Muslim soldier with Fort Lewis connections to be accused of wrongdoing related to the war on terror.

Capt. James Yee, 35, a former Fort Lewis chaplain, is accused of mishandling classified information from the U.S. prison for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay. Yee ministered to Muslim prisoners there.

There were initial reports that Yee was being investigated as part of an espionage probe, but he was never charged with spying.

Associated Press writer John J. Lumpkin contributed to this report from Washington, D.C.

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