The Department of Justice announced on Tuesday that Justin Nojan Sullivan, 21, of Morganton, North Carolina, was sentenced to life in prison for attempting to commit terrorism transcending national boundaries in support of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Sullivan pleaded guilty to the charge in November 2016. However, he still must face capital murder charges.
Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney Jill Westmoreland Rose of the Western District of North Carolina and Special Agent in Charge John A. Strong of the FBI’s Charlotte, North Carolina Division, made the announcement. U.S. District Judge Martin Reidinger presided over the sentencing.
“Sullivan is a convicted terrorist who plotted with now-deceased Syria-based terrorist Junaid Hussain to execute acts of mass violence in the United States in the name of ISIS,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Dana J Boente. “Counterterrorism remains our highest priority and we will continue to identify and hold accountable those who seek to commit acts of terrorism within our borders. I want to thank the many agents, analysts and prosecutors who are responsible for this result.”
“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,” declared Boente in a statement. Sullivan 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 wanted to create a branch of the so-called Islamic State in the United States.”
"Justin Sullivan planned to kill hundreds of innocent people. He pledged his support to ISIL and took calculated steps to commit a murderous rampage to prove his allegiance to the terrorist organization," said Special Agent in Charge John Strong.
Sullivan was arrested in June 2015 after he told an undercover FBI agent that he planned to kill Americans in support of the Islamic State. An FBI agent contacted Sullivan in June 2015, when Sullivan told said he embraced Islam after he "started thinking about death and stuff." He said he wanted to stop U.S. airstrikes against the Islamic State. He then told the agent that he wanted to obtain an assault rifle, according to a DOJ statement. Sullivan said to the agent, "Just kill a few people so that I know you are truthful. Just shoot them and leave. Wear a mask. Do it at night." He added, "I'll kill people this month … I want a car bomb," according to the release.
Sullivan said, "Our attacks need to be as big as possible. We can do minor assassinations before the big attack, for training," the complaint said.
"Our attack will be next month," he said. "I'll be doing shooting of my own before then. I'm excited."
Federal Terrorism Charges
According to court documents, 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. Court documents indicate that Sullivan told the undercover FBI source via social media that it was better to remain in America 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 asked the undercover source to build functional silencers 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. Court documents showed that Junaid Hussain asked Sullivan to make a video of his planned terrorist attack.
On or about June 19, 2015, the silencer was delivered to him at his home, where Sullivan’s mother opened the package. Sullivan took the silencer from his mother and hid it under his house. When Sullivan’s parents questioned him about it, Sullivan, believing that his parents would interfere with his plans to carry out an attack, offered to compensate the FBI source to kill them. At the sentencing, his parents were in tears. His father, Rich Sullivan, is a retired Marine captain.
Rich Sullivan tipped off authorities about his son’s behavior. The elder Sullivan first notified law enforcement in April 2015 that his teenaged son was destroying religious items in their home. Sullivan’s father said he has no regrets. “He was already in too deep, and he just went farther than he probably should have,” he said.
Sullivan still faces a trial in Burke County NC for the December 2014 shooting death of John Bailey Clarke (74): a recluse who lived near the Sullivan home in Morganton, about 75 miles northwest of Charlotte.