Justin Nojan Sullivan, 21, of Morganton, North Carolina, was sentenced today to life in prison for attempting to commit an act of terrorism transcending national boundaries, in support of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Sullivan pleaded guilty to the charge on Nov. 29, 2016.
According to information contained in court documents, starting no later than September 2014, Sullivan sought out and downloaded violent ISIS attacks on the Internet, such as beheadings, and collected them on his laptop computer. Court records indicate that Sullivan openly expressed support for ISIS in his home and destroyed religious items that belonged to his parents.
As Sullivan previously admitted in plea related documents filed with the court and at his plea hearing, beginning no later than June 7, 2015, Sullivan conspired with Junaid Hussain, an ISIS member responsible for online recruitment and providing directions and inspiration for terrorist plots in Western countries, to plan mass shooting attacks in North Carolina and Virginia. Sullivan discussed those plans on social media with an undercover FBI employee (UCE), who Sullivan attempted to recruit to join in such attacks.
Court documents indicate that Sullivan told the UCE via social media that it was better to remain in the U.S. to support ISIS than to travel. Sullivan suggested that the UCE obtain weapons and told the UCE that he was planning to buy a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle at an upcoming gun show in Hickory, North Carolina. On or about June 20, 2015, Sullivan attempted to purchase hollow point ammunition to be used with the weapon(s) he intended to purchase.
According to court records, Sullivan had researched on the Internet how to manufacture firearm silencers and asked the UCE to build functional silencers that they could use to carry out the planned attacks. Court records show that Sullivan told the UCE he planned to carry out his attack in the following few days at a concert, bar or club, where he believed as many as 1,000 people would be killed using the assault rifle and silencer.
Filed documents indicate that over the course of Sullivan’s communications with Junaid Hussain, Hussain had asked Sullivan to make a video of his planned terrorist attack, to which Sullivan had agreed.
On or about June 19, 2015, the silencer, which was built according to Sullivan’s instructions, was delivered to him at his home in North Carolina, where Sullivan’s mother opened the package. Sullivan took the silencer from his mother and hid it in a crawl space under his house. When Sullivan’s parents questioned him about the silencer, Sullivan, believing that his parents would interfere with his plans to carry out an attack, offered to compensate the UCE to kill them.
Sullivan previously admitted that he took substantial steps towards carrying out terrorist attacks in North Carolina and Virginia by: (1) recruiting the UCE; (2) obtaining a silencer from the UCE; (3) procuring the money that would have enabled him to purchase the AR-15; (4) trying to obtain a specific type of ammunition that he believed would be the most “deadly”; (5) identifying separate gun shows where he and the UCE could purchase AR-15s; and (6) obtained a coupon for the gun shows he planned for himself and the UCE to attend on June 20 or 21, 2015.