FORT LEWIS, Wash. – People in Spc. Ryan G. Anderson's (search) hometown of Everett, Wash., are having a hard time coming to grips with the fact that the National Guardsman has been accused of aiding anti-American terrorists.
Anderson, 26, a Muslim convert, is being charged with aiding the enemy after U.S. officials discovered he allegedly tried to give military data to Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terror network. He was arrested Thursday.
Defense officials say Anderson, an armored crewman with the National Guard's 81st Armor Brigade (search), signed on to extremist Internet chat rooms and tried to contact members of Al Qaeda (search), offering them information on U.S. military capabilities and weaponry.
Jennifer Seratte, who went to high school with Anderson in Everett, Wash., told Fox News she was shocked when she heard of her friend's arrest. Seratte said she did not know that Anderson had converted to Islam.
"He'd always been pro-Christianity and pro-American" in school, Seratte said.
Anderson graduated from Cascade High School (search) in 1995. He was vice president of the school's chapter of Junior Statesmen of America, a national organization that attracts high-achieving students interested in politics, government, debate and education, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported.
"You're shocked because this is not how I remember Ryan at all," Gary Axtell, principal of Cascade High School at the time, told the newspaper. "I hope for Ryan's sake and his family's that this isn't true."
But another acquaintance of Anderson remembers him differently.
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 Everett Herald on Thursday. "Ryan's kind of a weird type of guy who made up a lot of stories that seemed really far-fetched."
Knopp, who is in the Navy, declined to talk about Anderson to The Associated Press Friday, saying the Navy asked him not to discuss the case.
But he showed an AP reporter and photographer a copy of his 1995 yearbook, where he said Anderson had drawn an elaborate sketch of a machine gun, and a Confederate flag, and wrote, "Let's overthrow the government!" He signed it R. "Za Savierski" Anderson.
At Washington State University (search), Anderson worried about his right to possess rifles on campus and inquired about converting to Islam.
He graduated from WSU in 2002 with a bachelor's degree in history. The Herald reported that Anderson's focus was the military history of the Middle East and that he converted to Islam five years ago.
When he moved to Seattle after graduating, he connected with the local Muslim community by joining an e-mail group used by hundreds of Muslims to exchange ideas, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported.
"He immediately e-mailed the group telling people he was an expert marksman, and he wanted to teach people how to shoot," said Aziz Junejo, a local community member. "Right away that was a red flag."
The newspaper reported that Anderson described himself as an Army officer cadet of "German/Irish decent who was raised in a 'zombie Lutheran' home."
In Web postings, Anderson showed his fondness for guns and sought to join a local militia.
Run-ins With the Law
But apparently Anderson's latest run-in with the law wasn't his first.
In May 1998, when he was 20, Anderson was pounced on by Snohomish County (search) 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 (search) killed two students and wounded more than 20 other people at his high school in Springfield, Ore. Kinkel also had killed his parents.
Neighbors at Anderson's home, which had an American flag in the driveway, told the Washington newspaper that they were having difficulty grasping the situation.
"They're just lovely people," one said. "It's just a dinger when you hear something like this."
In a letter to the Everett Herald in November of 2002, Anderson wrote: "In my three years as an observant Muslim, I've encountered nothing but kindness, patience, courtesy and understanding from them. On the other hand, I have experienced bigotry, hatred and mindless rage from so-called 'educated thinkers' here in the U.S."
In a 1999 letter to the Herald, he wrote: "Should any law be passed which allows anyone to come and, without due cause, take my arms, I and every other lawfully armed American citizen has a right to resist that degradation with every means possible."
Aiding the Enemy
Military officials told Fox News that Anderson made some contacts on the Web that made officials suspicious enough to start watching him. A sting was assembled, with some of the investigators posing as terrorists online.
They communicated with Anderson in chat rooms to find out just how much he would be willing to reveal. Anderson, it appears, then tried to tell the agents how they might be successful in attacking U.S. armor in Iraq and provided information about "vulnerabilities" of equipment the U.S. Army was using in Iraq or is about to ship over with newly deployed troops.
The National Guard's 81st Armor Brigade, a 4,200-member unit set to depart for Iraq, 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. It's due to return in March 2005, and be back under state authority by May 15, 2005.
Anderson was taken into custody by the Army, Justice Department and FBI and was being held at the Fort Lewis Regional Corrections Facility near Tacoma.
It was not immediately clear if Anderson had a lawyer.
One Army official told Fox News that Anderson violated the disclosure oath he took when he joined the Army if he talked about his unit's upcoming deployment to Iraq. Another Army official simply described Anderson as "stupid," and what he did as "stupid."
Jack Roberts, a neighbor, said he talked to Anderson's wife, Erin, after federal agents left the couple's apartment Thursday.
"She was pretty damned shocked, as I was," Roberts told the Herald of Everett.
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.
A preliminary hearing for Yee at Fort Benning, Ga., has been postponed a fourth time, until Feb. 18, the Army said earlier this month.
The Army said the delay was necessary to complete a classification review of documents.
An Army spokesman said Thursday the military is committed to recruiting Muslims, noting many have skills in foreign languages and cultural knowledge that is useful in U.S. military operations overseas.
Fox News' Bret Baier, Mike Emanuel, Ian McCaleb, Liza Porteus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.