The U.S. Army confirmed Tuesday that the soldier charged with plotting a deadly ambush on his unit is a paratrooper with the 173rd Airborne Brigade's Sky Soldiers.
The Department of Justice indicted Army Pvt. Ethan Phelan Melzer on charges including conspiring and attempting to murder military service members and providing and attempting to provide material support to terrorists, according to an indictment that was unsealed Monday.
Melzer is a 22-year-old infantryman assigned to the 173rd Airborne's 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, in Vicenza, Italy, 173rd spokesman Maj. Chris Bradley told Military.com.
After joining the Army on the delayed-entry program in late 2018, Melzer started his active-duty enlistment in June 2019. He arrived at the 173rd in November 2019, Bradley said.
His awards and decorations include the National Defense Service Medal, Parachutist Badge and Army Service Ribbon, according to Bradley.
The 173rd worked with the DOJ and other Army and federal agencies during the investigation of Melzer, who allegedly leaked sensitive information -- such as the unit's location, movements and security -- to members of the Order of the Nine Angles (O9A), an occult-based neo-Nazi and white supremacist group based in Europe.
"It's still an ongoing case," Bradley said, adding that he couldn't provide further details.
"We are concerned with the safety of our troops, and that is our highest priority," he added.
During a voluntary interview with military investigators and the FBI, Melzer admitted his role in plotting an attack "to result in the deaths of as many of his fellow service members as possible," according to a DOJ news release.
DOJ officials said Melzer joined O9A in 2019. They described it as a group whose members and supporters have embraced violent neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic and satanic beliefs and have expressed admiration for both Nazis, such as Adolf Hitler, and Islamic jihadists, such as former al-Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden, who was killed in May 2011 when U.S. special operations forces raided his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
In April, the Army informed Melzer and other members of his unit that they would be deployed to guard a U.S. military installation in another foreign country, according to the indictment from the United States District Court, Southern District of New York.
Melzer, also known as "Etil Reggad," used an encrypted application to send messages to members and associates of O9A and a related group known as the RapeWaffen Division that included information related to the unit's anticipated deployment and "for the purpose of facilitating an attack on his unit," according to the indictment.
Neither the Army nor DOJ would comment on the location of the planned deployment.
Melzer and his alleged 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, according to the DOJ news release.
"Melzer promised to leak more information once he arrived at the location of the new deployment in order to try to maximize the likelihood of a successful attack on his unit," the release states.
Army officials would not comment on any aspect of the investigation and referred all questions to the DOJ. Military.com asked the DOJ if the investigation suspected any other soldiers of working with Melzer in plotting the attack, but DOJ spokesman Marc Raimondi would not comment on that possibility.
Melzer faces a maximum sentence of life in prison on each of the following charges: conspiring to murder U.S. nationals; conspiring to murder U.S. military service members; and conspiring to murder and maim in a foreign country, according to the release.
He also faces up to 20 years in prison for attempting to murder American nationals and another 20 years for attempting to murder U.S. military service members, according to the release. In addition, he faces 15 years in prison for attempting to provide and providing material support to terrorists, the release adds.
"Melzer declared himself to be a traitor against the United States, and described his own conduct as tantamount to treason. We agree," William F. Sweeney Jr., assistant director-in-charge of the FBI's New York Office, said in the release.
"He turned his back on his ... unit while aligning himself with members of the neo-Nazi group O9A. Today, he is in custody and facing a lifetime of service -- behind bars -- which is appropriate given the severity of the conduct."
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.