U.S. soldier expressed opinions about U.S., Islam

Saturday, February 14, 2004

EVERETT, Wash. -- A National Guardsman suspected of trying to share military information with al-Qaida is a Muslim convert who complained bitterly in a letter to a newspaper about "bigotry, hatred and mindless rage" in the United States. Spc. Ryan G. Anderson, 26, was arrested Thursday and was being held at Fort Lewis. The tank crew member from the Guard's 81st Armor Brigade was taken into custody just days before he was to leave for duty in Iraq. Long before his arrest, he had made some of his beliefs known in strongly worded letters to the editor. "In my three years as an observant Muslim, I've encountered nothing but kindness, patience, courtesy and understanding from them," he wrote in a November 2002 letter to the Herald of Everett. "On the other hand, I have experienced bigotry, hatred and mindless rage from so-called 'educated thinkers' here in the U.S."

Anderson also suggested that his allegiance to the United States was conditional.

In a 1998 letter published by The Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, he warned: "Today I am a young soldier, sworn to protect and defend this country. But if tomorrow I find that this nation is no longer the one based upon the freedom I was taught to love, I'll have little choice but to go where I can live in freedom."

And in a 2001 letter to the Spokane newspaper, Anderson said he feared war in Afghanistan, because "elements in our own society who would rob us of our individual liberties and freedoms can use the auspices of national security to steal them."

Speaking on condition of anonymity, defense officials said Anderson signed on to extremist Internet chat rooms and tried to get in touch with al-Qaida operatives. It is unclear how the U.S. government got wind of his alleged offer to supply military information to the terrorists. It does not appear he transmitted any information to al-Qaida, authorities said.

Anderson grew up in this city 30 miles north of Seattle, graduating from Cascade High School in 1995. He then attended Washington State University, where he earned a degree in history in 2002. He began studying Islam in 1999, according to his most recent letter to the Herald in 2002.

The arrest is "shocking, but it's not too shocking, knowing how Ryan is," said Nathan Knopp, a high school friend.

"He was always a paramilitary type of guy, really into military weaponry," Knopp told The Herald on Thursday. "Ryan's kind of a weird type of guy who made up a lot of stories that seemed really far-fetched."

No one answered a knock at Anderson's apartment door in Lynnwood, a Seattle suburb, on Friday. A newspaper with its front-page report on his arrest lay unopened on the doorstep.

Neighbor Jack Roberts 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.

TV satellite trucks lined the street outside his parents' home Friday, but no one made an appearance. His father, Bruce Anderson, issued a statement saying the family was stunned by the arrest but is confident the code of military justice will afford the younger Anderson a fair trial.

It was not immediately clear if he had a lawyer.

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, Cuba. Yee ministered to Muslim prisoners there.

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

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