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Neighbor describes eerie feeling about terrorism-related suspect

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Erwin Antonio Rios Erwin Antonio Rios
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. -

A 19-year-old from Fayetteville pled guilty to charges related to his plans for terrorist activities, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Erwin Antonio Rios, 19, of Fayetteville, pled guilty Tuesday to a charge of possession of a stolen firearm. He was arrested in February.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) said that Rios wanted to take the gun overseas to carry out what he called "jihad" on non-believers in Islam, U.S. forces included. The DOJ said Rios explained jihad as various forms of violence against those he determined to be non-believers. The DOJ characterized the intentions as terrorist activities.

In a press release, the DOJ wrote that Rios planned to fund his trip by committing violent robberies in North Carolina, leaving no witnesses alive.

"Erwin Rios intended to commit violent acts against innocent people in furtherance of his extremist doctrine of hate," said John Strong, Special Agent in Charge of the Charlotte Division of the FBI. "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."

According to a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) affidavit, Rios was arrested on February 7. Agents believe Rios was living or had spent some time at his father's house on Oak Knolls Drive prior to his arrest.

People who live on the street said Wednesday they remember agents raiding the Rios home a few months ago – the day of, or the day after the arrest. One neighbor who did not give his name said he saw agents take computers from the home. The neighbor also said he had only seen Rios for a few weeks prior to the raid, and he said Rios was wearing a thobe or Islamic man's robe.

Jennifer Billings who also lives in the area said she has only seen Rios twice – once while driving and once as she waited for her son's school bus and Rios walked by. Billings also said Rios was wearing a thobe.

"The hairs on the back of my neck stood right up when I saw him," Billings said. "It doesn't matter what he was wearing. It doesn't matter what he looked like. Just something about him just didn't seem right. I was on the phone with my husband and I told him I just got a really bad feeling all of a sudden. Low and behold, the next day, there's 20 cop cars down at the end of our road."

The FBI affidavit said a confidential informant first met Rios at an Islamic house of worship in Hoke County in June 2012. According to the affidavit Rios talked to the informant over several more months. The affidavit said Rios talked about a desire to be soldier for Allah, and that Muslims would rule the world, and that anyone who killed in defense of his religion would be forgiven and guaranteed a place in heaven.

The affidavit said in September 2012 Rios told the informant he had an interest in getting a gun. In the months following Rios continued his interested in getting a gun through the informant, even if the gun was stolen, according to the affidavit.

With assistance from the FBI, the informant arranged a gun sale to Rios in February, and Rios was taken into custody immediately after the purchase.

"[I feel] very scared. I have two little boys. You just never know what someone's going to do," Billings said about the DOJ and FBI claims. "We sat here wondering. Everyone was asking, ‘Do you know what happened. Do you know what happened?' It's good to know. It's good to finally know that something was going on, that there's an answer."

Brandon Herring

Brandon is a North Carolina native and UNC alum who lives in Fayetteville, and covers Cumberland County and the Sandhills. Returning to North Carolina to work as a journalist is a dream come true for Brandon. More>>

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