CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - A Charlotte man was arrested Thursday morning on a federal complaint charging him with conspiring to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), a designated foreign terrorist organization.
According to federal officials, 35-year-old Erick Jamal Hendricks tried to recruit people to train together and conduct terrorist attacks in the United States on behalf of ISIL.
"He hadn't attended any area Islamic centers and he had only been in Charlotte for three weeks" a spokesperson for the Islamic Center of Charlotte said.
Jibril Hough told WBTV that area Muslims are concerned that they will be blamed for Hendricks.
"'They all loop us in together. We all get painted with a broad brush," Hough said. "We had been outspoken time and time again about Isis and anyone who seeks to join them."
One of Hendricks' relatives told WBTV that around 5 o'clock Thursday morning, armed federal agents converged on the house in north Charlotte where Hendricks just moved in. He and his family relocated from South Carolina. The relative said agents didn't seize any items from the house, and the family didn't see any search warrants.
The family member described the early morning arrest as "nerve-wracking."
Hendricks' stepson, who was in court when the 35 year old went before a federal Judge, told reporters he believes his step-father is innocent, and that it's a case of mistaken identity.
"I think it's a matter of time. It's a very big inconvenience but I think he'll be acquitted of everything," the stepson said.
According to the complaint, a man was arrested in June 2015 after attempting to purchase an AK-47 assault rifle and ammunition from an undercover law enforcement officer. That man had pledged allegiance to ISIL in social media and made statements expressing interest in conducting attacks in the United States, according to federal officials.
Hendricks had contacted the man over social media to recruit him in the spring of 2015, according to the complaint. Hendricks allegedly told the man that he "needed people" and wanted to meet in person. Hendricks said there were several "brothers" located in Texas and Mexico and he was attempting to "get brothers to meet face to face" and train together.
According to the complaint, Hendricks tested the man's religious knowledge and commitment, inquiring about his willingness to commit "jihad," to die as a "martyr" and his desire to enter "jannah" (paradise).
The man told federal officials he believed Hendricks and the "brothers in Texas and Mexico" may have been responsible for a thwarted terrorist attack in Garland, Texas, in May 2015.
Following that, the man decided to stay away from social media for a period following the attack to minimize detection by law enforcement, he told federal officials.
According to the complaint, Hendricks communicated over social media with several other people, including an undercover FBI employee.
According to the complaint, on April 16, 2015, Hendricks instructed the undercover agent to download the document "GPS for the Ghuraba in the U.S.", which included a section entitled "Final Advice" which advocated that "brothers and sisters" should not allow themselves to go to jail.
It encouraged Muslims to die as a "Shaheed" (martyr), to "Boobie trap your homes," to "lay in wait for them" and to "never leave your home without your AK-47 or M16."
According to the complaint, Hendricks also directed the undercover agent to communicate online with other people and stated "It's hard to sift through brothers;" "Allah chooses only the few;" and "Everyday I do this day in and day out."
Hendricks allegedly told another person that his goal was to create a sleeper cell to be trained and housed at a secure compound that would conduct attacks in the United States.
He mentioned that potential targets included military members whose information had been released by ISIL and the woman who organized the "Draw Prophet Mohammad contest," and he claimed to have 10 members signed up for his group, according to allegations in the complaint.
In April 2015, Hendricks allegedly used social media to contact Elton Simpson, who, along with Nadir Hamid Soofi, was inspired by ISIL and launched the attack on the "First Annual Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest" in Garland.
Simpson and Soofi opened fire, wounding a security guard, before Garland police returned fire and killed both Simpson and Soofi.
According to the complaint, Hendricks also connected the undercover agent with Simpson via social media; communicated with the undercover agent about the contest in Garland; and directed the agenet to go to the contest.
"If you see that pig (meaning the organizer of the contest) make your 'voice' heard against her," Hendricks allegedly said.
According to the complaint, he also asked the undercover agent a series of questions related to security at the event, including: "How big is the gathering?" "How many ppl?(sic)" "How many police/agents?" "Do you see feds there?' "Do you see snipers?" and "How many media?"
Shortly thereafter, Simpson and Soofi committed the attack on the cartoon drawing contest.
If convicted, Hendricks faces a statutory maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.