ASHEVILLE, NC (FOX 46 WJZY) - A Morganton, NC man accused of supporting ISIS will spend the rest of his life in prison.
Justin Sullivan, 21, was sentenced to life imprisonment Tuesday in federal court for planning murderous attack in support of ISIS.During his sentencing, Sullivan told the court that he's "not a bad person," and that, "things just happened."
According to investigators, Sullivan, who was still a teenager at the time of his arrest, was planning to buy an assault rifle from a local gun show and slaughter at least 1,000 people during a concert in Charlotte. He pleaded guilty to attempting to commit an act of terrorism transcending national boundaries on Nov. 29, 2016.
Court documents state that 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. Court records indicate that he openly expressed support for ISIS in his home and destroyed religious items that belonged to his parents.
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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.
The Department of Justice says that Sullivan was communicating with an undercover agent and told the agent that he planned "minor assassinations to get ready for the major attack."
“Sullivan was actively planning the mass killing of innocent people with an attack designed to inflict maximum casualties and maximum pain in the name of ISIS, a sworn enemy of our nation. Sullivan’s allegiance to ISIS did not stop there. He also planned to film and send a video of his deadly attack to now-deceased Junaid Hussain, a prominent ISIS member based in Syria, and further expressed his wish to create a new branch of the so-called Islamic State in the United States. The life sentence imposed on Sullivan reflects the seriousness of his crimes, protects the public from the danger he poses, and serves as a deterrent to others who wish to harm civilians within our borders. Our fight against terrorism continues whether against those who commit crimes on behalf of ISIS or any other foreign terrorist organization,” said U.S. Attorney Rose.
Court documents indicate that Sullivan told the undercover agent via social media that it was better to remain in the U.S. to support ISIS than to travel. Sullivan suggested that the agent obtain weapons and told the agent 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's father, a retired Marine, was the one that tipped investigators off about his son's suspicious behavior. When asked if he could forgive his son, Rich Sullivan told FOX 46 Charlotte, "I can't forgive him."
The DOJ believes that Sullivan went through with a least one of those assassinations. He is suspected of killing his neighbor, John Clark, 74, and burying him in a shallow grave. Sullivan will later stand trial for the murder charges where he could face the death penalty.
“Identifying a terrorist before an attack happens is one of the most difficult tasks we face in the FBI. We compare it to finding a needle in a stack of needles. But that is exactly what we did to stop Justin Sullivan from carrying out his murderous plot in the name of ISIL. It took an incredible level of cooperation and collaboration between local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. Today’s life in prison sentence is the result of the hard work of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force working around the clock to protect this country from those who seek to do us harm,” said Special Agent in Charge Strong.
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