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Photograph: Photo by www.GlynLowe.com, used under CC BY-ND

A police officer for Washington's transit system faces terrorism charges for allegedly attempting to provide support to the Islamic State movement, the US Justice Department said Wednesday.

Nicholas Young, 36, an officer with the Metro Transit Police since 2003, was arrested Wednesday after allegedly providing to an undercover agent gift cards which he believed were to be used by Islamic State members for mobile messaging used in recruitment, the Justice Department said.

Authorities said they did not believe Young was a threat to the Metro system, but was focused on activity abroad.

Young told FBI agents that he had travelled to Libya twice in 2011 to fight against the Moamer Gaddafi regime, and body armour was found in his suitcase.

He had been in contact with several other would-be terrorists who pleaded guilty to terrorism charges in US courts, including one who had planned to set off a suicide bomb at the US Capitol.

Young met 20 times with an FBI source to discuss support for the Islamic State movement and later emailed with undercover FBI agents about providing money to the group.

The affidavit describes Young discussing with the FBI informant how to travel to Syria and making threatening statements about FBI agents and others. He had allegedly had Nazi sympathies and had dressed up for Halloween as Jihadi John, a notorious Islamic State executioner.

He appeared in court later Wednesday and faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Metro said it fired Young when he was arrested.

Metro Transit Police had notified the FBI about Young and worked with them through the investigation, General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said in a statement.

"Obviously, the allegations in this case are profoundly disturbing," he said. "They're disturbing to me, and they're disturbing to everyone who wears the uniform."

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