US terror suspect claims to be ‘paid FBI informant’
A Charlotte, North Carolina man accused of recruiting for the Islamic State claims that he worked for years with the FBI to identify potential terrorists.
Erick Jamal Hendricks, 35, is charged with conspiracy to provide material support to Islamic State (IS).
Federal prosecutors and the FBI say that while living in Columbia, South Carolina, and possibly other cities the converted Muslim used social media to recruit potential converts to IS. The group has claimed responsibility for acts of terrorism that have killed scores of people worldwide, including in the United States.
Hendricks moved to Charlotte about a month ago. He was arrested at his home August 4.
In a statement from his Mecklenburg County Jail cell given to The Charlotte Observer by his mother, Hendricks claims to have been a paid informant of the FBI since 2009 who helped the agency identify potential terrorists.
Code name: “Ahkie”, a variation of the Muslim term for “brother”.
He also claims to have been an outspoken and long-time opponent of radical Islam.
“I have publicly, privately and consistently denounced al-Qaeda, ISIS and all extremist groups,” Hendricks said in a statement that Lisa Woods says her son dictated during a phone call from the jail on Wednesday.
“I am baffled as to why the FBI [is] accusing me of terrorist ties.”
But Hendricks also had ties to a mosque in Virginia that has been linked to an Islamic organisation whose members have included terrorists linked to the 9/11 bombings and al-Qaeda.
Federal prosecutors and the FBI say the Arkansas native spent months in 2015 trying to recruit IS sympathisers online and through social media to train and unleash terrorist attacks in the US for IS. He was unaware he was communicating with an FBI operative, bureau informants and an admitted IS sympathiser who was arrested in Ohio after he illegally bought a rifle, authorities say.
On Tuesday, the 198cm, 127kg Hendricks sobbed in a Charlotte courtroom as his attorney argued his innocence. US Magistrate Judge David Cayer of Charlotte order Hendricks held pending his transfer to Cleveland for trial.
In documents filed in connection with the case, Cayer said Hendricks was a flight risk and cited the government’s allegations that he was recruiting for IS, owned assault weapons and had connections “with individuals concerning a terrorist attack in Garland, Texas”.
According to the FBI affidavit unsealed on the day of Hendricks’ arrest, the defendant had social media links with Elton Simpson, one of two gunmen behind the IS-inspired shootings at the “First Annual Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest” in Garland in May 2015.
Two months later, Hendricks made this post on the Facebook page set up under his Muslim name, Mustafa Abu Maryam: “I reject the killing of innocents and all acts of terror everywhere!”
Whether Hendricks’ working relationship with the FBI was real or a flight of fancy is not clear. The bureau has a long history of relying on paid informants within groups it investigates – from the Ku Klux Klan to the Hollywood writers’ guild.
When asked about his claim, the FBI’s national press office in Washington responded saying, the agency had “no additional information to provide on the case”. The US attorney’s office in Cleveland did not return a phone call seeking a response to Hendricks’ claims.
Hendricks says the FBI first contacted him in 2009, when as Mustafa Abu Maryam, he was the youth coordinator of the Islamic Circle of North America Centre in Alexandria, Virginia.
Five young Virginia men who had attended the mosque were arrested in Pakistan that December on terrorism charges and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Hendricks told reporters at the time the teens were “fun-loving and career-focused“ and “very wholesome kids”.
The mosque was of interest to Homeland Security officials because it was a branch of the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Centre of Falls Church, Virginia, where Anwar al-Awlaki preached in 2001 and 2002. Al-Awlaki was believed by US intelligence agencies to be a terrorist recruiter who planned operations for al-Qaeda. He was killed by a US drone strike in 2011.
Two of the 9/11 hijackers worshipped at Dar Al-Hijrah, as did Nidal Malik Hasan, who killed 13 fellow soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas, in November 2009.
Hendricks says he worked with FBI agents named David and Steve and claims to have developed “at least a half-dozen” cases against extremists.
In 2015, he and his wife moved to Arkansas, where Hendricks says his relationship with the FBI continued. That May, however, he says the FBI began following him. He says he noticed cameras on telephone poles outside his home and claims to have later found a GPS device on his car.
In January 2015, Hendricks moved back with his wife to Woodson but returned to Columbia four months later after he felt he was being targeted by the FBI, she said.
Woods said she first heard of her son’s role as an FBI informant during his stay in the first half of 2015. She says she believes her son is innocent.