Man accused of planning terrorist acts in name of ISIS gets life - | WBTV Charlotte

Man accused of planning terrorist acts in name of ISIS gets life sentence

Justin Nojan Sullivan exits the Federal courthouse in Charlotte in June 2015. (Davie Hinshaw | The Charlotte Observer) Justin Nojan Sullivan exits the Federal courthouse in Charlotte in June 2015. (Davie Hinshaw | The Charlotte Observer)

The ISIS suspect who pleaded guilty to attempted terrorism in Burke County was handed a life sentence in federal court Tuesday. 

Justin Sullivan pleaded guilty last year. He was arrested on June 19, 2015, and charged with attempting to provide material support to ISIL, transporting and receiving a silencer in interstate commerce with intent to commit a felony and receipt and possession of an unregistered silencer, identified by serial number.

"Those who committed terrorism are not martyrs, they are criminals," the judge said in Tuesday's sentence hearing in Asheville. 

Sullivan, who called himself The Mujahid in his contacts with the Islamic State, is accused of plotting a mass killing in support of ISIL. 

“As alleged in the complaint, the defendant was planning assassinations and violent attacks in the United States and is charged with attempting to provide material support to ISIL and federal firearms violations,” said Assistant Attorney General Carlin. “The National Security Division’s highest priority is counter-terrorism and we will continue to pursue justice against those who seek to provide material support to designated foreign terrorist organizations.”

According to a criminal complaint, the FBI became aware of Sullivan's plans to obtain a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle at the Hickory Gun Show in Hickory on June 20, 2015, "which he planned to use to kill a large number of U.S. citizens on behalf of ISIL," court documents state.  

An undercover FBI agent then made contact with Sullivan. 

“My highest priority is to detect and prosecute violent extremists and protect innocent Americans from terrorist attacks," said Acting U.S.
Attorney Rose.

Transporting and receiving a silencer in interstate commerce with intent to commit a felony carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Conspiracy to provide material support to a design a  foreign organization carries a possible 20-year sentence and a $250,000 fine. 

For the receipt and possession of an unregistered silencer, unidentified by a serial number, a 10-year sentence and $10,000 fine is possible. 

Sullivan admitted that he attempted to commit terrorist attacks against innocent people in North Carolina and Virginia, court documents state. 

RELATED: Morganton ISIS suspect pleads guilty to attempted terrorism

In filed plea documents, Sullivan admitted that he took the following steps towards carrying out terrorist attacks in North Carolina and Virginia:

  • Recruiting the UCE
  • Obtaining a silencer from the UCE
  • Procuring the money that would have enabled him to purchase the AR-15
  • Trying to obtain a specific type of ammunition that he believed would be the most “deadly”
  • Identifying separate gun shows where he and the UCE could purchase AR-15s
  • Obtained coupons for the gun shows he planned for himself and the UCE to attend on June 20 or 21, 2015.

Sullivan still faces capital murder charges in Burke County related to the 2014 shooting death of John Bailey Clark, 74, who lived near Sullivan and his parents. Those charges came after federal authorities found a weapon at the Sullivan home that ties into the murder. 

RELATED: Suspect in custody in death of man found buried in yard in 2014

The FBI says Sullivan shot and robbed Clark to get money to help him buy an assault rifle he planned to use to commit the mass murder. He used a rifle he stole from his dad's gun cabinet, which he hid in the crawl space. 

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In court Tuesday,  the judge said he wanted to hear from both sides in regard to the agreed upon life sentence. The defense said they were OK with it, but requested that Sullivan serve his time in a facility where there are mental health facilities. 

A psychologist testified that although Sullivan is competent to face the legal issues, he did have some mental problems. 

Sullivan himself then stood and addressed the court, saying, "I am not a bad person." 

Sullivan said he did not think a life sentence was justice, saying, "People should not misjudge me." 

Sullivan is also charged with killing a neighbor months before he was arrested on the federal charge. It was a murder that federal prosecutors believe was practice for what they termed "A plot for an Orlando type massacre." 

Assistant US Attorney Mike Savage called the killing of John Bailey Clark just a few doors down from Sullivan's home a "Cold blooded killing." 

The judge said there was enough evidence already of terror connections and terror plans that he would not have to consider or make a ruling on whether Sullivan was responsible for that murder. He accepted the plea arrangement and officially sentenced Sullivan to life in prison. 
The sentence did not mean the state murder charge was going away. District Attorney David Learner said the case "is still on." 

Meanwhile, Sullivan's father, who called authorities about his son's erratic behavior months before he was arrested, said it was all hard to watch in the courtroom.

"As a parent, it is tough," Rich Sullivan said. The father said he called authorities about his son because it was the right thing to do. 
When asked if he thought he had saved lives by tipping off authorities, he answered, "I hope so, I hope so." 

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