Erick Jamal Hendricks, 37, of Charlotte, was convicted this week of conspiring to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), a designated foreign terrorist organization.
His sentencing has yet to be scheduled, officials said.
The trial was held in Akron, Ohio, where government prosecutors successfully painted a picture of Hendricks as the driving force behind a proposed ISIS sleeper cell on American soil.
"Erick Jamal Hendricks represents the significant online ISIS threat that we face daily: A US citizen that becomes radicalized online and attempts to recruit and train individuals to commit jihad, all while on American soil,” said Special Agent in Charge Stephen Anthony. "The FBI is pleased that Hendricks was stopped before he was successful and now will spend a significant amount of time behind bars.”
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Hendricks moved to Charlotte from Columbia, South Carolina, in July of 2016 and was arrested at his home on Aug. 4 of the same year as part of a complex government investigation that included FBI operatives.
His mother told the Observer in 2016 that her son was "patriotic," and was facing trumped-up charges because he is a converted Muslim.
Federal prosecutors and the FBI tell a different story, of an Arkansas native who spent months in 2015 trying to recruit ISIS sympathizers through social media to train and unleash terrorist attacks in the United Sates for ISIS.
Authorities say he was unaware that he was often communicating with an FBI operative, bureau informants and an admitted ISIS sympathizer who was arrested in Ohio after he illegally bought an assault rifle.
The latter was a man identified as Amir Al-Ghazi, who was arrested in Ohio in June 2015, after attempting to purchase an AK-47 assault rifle and ammunition from an undercover law enforcement officer. Al-Ghazi had pledged allegiance to ISIS in social media and made statements expressing interest in conducting attacks in the U.S, prosecutors said.
Hendricks had contacted Al-Ghazi over social media to recruit him months earlier. Al-Ghazi said Hendricks tested his religious knowledge and commitment, inquiring about his willingness to commit “jihad,” to die as a “martyr” and his desire to enter “jannah” (paradise).
Al-Ghazi said he believed that Hendricks was part of a group responsible for a thwarted terrorist attack in Garland, Texas, prosecutors said. On April 23, 2015, Hendricks used social media to contact Elton Simpson, who, along with Nadir Hamid Soofi, was inspired by ISIS 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.
Al-Ghazi previously pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support to a designated terrorist organization and being a felon in possession of firearms, officials said. He is awaiting sentencing.
Prosecutors say Hendricks's potential targets included military members whose information had been released by ISIS and the woman who organized the “Draw Prophet Mohammad contest.” He claimed to have 10 members signed up for his group, according court documents and trial testimony.
The case was investigated by the FBI’s offices in Cleveland; Columbia, South Carolina; Baltimore; and Charlotte, with assistance from the U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the District of Maryland, District of South Carolina and the Western District of North Carolina.