A North Carolina man who the FBI says spoke of killing U.S. Army soldiers as part of a personal jihad has pleaded guilty to possessing a stolen firearm.
Erwin Antonio Rios, 19, admitted guilt Tuesday in U.S. District Court as part of a plea agreement with federal prosecutors. The terms of the agreement have not been made public, but the felony charge to which Rios pleaded guilty carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
In an affidavit filed with the court, FBI Special Agent Frank Brostrom said Rios holds extremist Islamic views and told a government informant he would like to kill Fort Bragg soldiers.
"Rios spoke of how Islam will rule the world soon, and that non-believers are guaranteed hell fire," Brostrom said. "Rios stated that he would have loved to have been a soldier for Allah."
Authorities said Rios, who is from Fayetteville, also plotted to travel overseas to commit violence against non-Muslims and devised a scheme to commit armed robberies to obtain money to buy weapons. The FBI set up a sting where Rios bought what he was told was a stolen handgun and was then immediately placed under arrest.
According to the affidavit, an FBI informant first met Rios in June 2012 at a mosque in Raeford. The young Muslim told the informant he wanted to fight non-believers oppressing the faithful.
Two month later, the informant and Rios were riding in a car past the gates of Fort Bragg, the sprawling home of the 82 Airborne Division. Rios told the informant they could easily gain access to the base and that he liked to observe the soldiers and watch their movements in case he ever had to make jihad against them, according to the affidavit.
When a military helicopter flew overhead, Rios "stated that he wished he had a 'Stinger missile' to take it out," according to Brostrom.
In another conversation, Rios is reported to have told the FBI informant that the "most efficient way to kill them all would be to wear an explosive vest and blow yourself up for Allah," according to the affidavit.
In September, Rios told the informant he had been talking to someone who could get him an AK-47 assault rifle and a .357 caliber handgun for about $500. When the informant suggested that the guns might be stolen at that price, Rios responded that he knew that but it was still a good deal, according to the affidavit.
The FBI said Rios feared arrest if he tried to buy guns from a licensed dealer. State court records shows he has prior convictions for breaking and entering and possession of a stolen firearm. In 2011, Rios had applied for a passport but was denied because he was on criminal probation, according to the affidavit.
After Rios expressed his desire to buy a gun, the informant offered to introduce him to a neighbor who broke into homes to steal weapons.
On February 7, Rios traveled with the informant to Lillington to meet with a second informant posing as an illegal gun salesman. According to the affidavit, the FBI informant offered Rios a 9mm handgun that had been stolen. Rios then paid a $100 for the gun, which had secretly had the firing pin removed, according to the FBI.
Rios then drove off with the first informant, but they were pulled over by FBI agents after traveling about a mile. Rios was taken into custody as he reached for a knife concealed in his pocket, according to the affidavit.
His guilty plea on Tuesday comes days after three Raleigh Muslims were sentenced in a plot to behead federal informants who helped the FBI foil another homegrown terror plot that involved plans to attack the U.S. Marine base at Quantico, Va., and targets overseas.
John Strong, Special Agent in Charge of the Charlotte Division of the FBI, praised the work of the federal authorities who investigated Rios.
"Erwin Rios intended to commit violent acts against innocent people in furtherance of his extremist doctrine of hate," Strong said. "As demonstrated in this case, the multi-agency partnerships which make up our local Joint Terrorism Task Force continue to play a critical role in the day-to-day protection of our communities and our national security."
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