Morganton teen arrested by FBI, planned to help terrorist group
BURKE COUNTY, NC (WBTV) - A Burke County teenager is accused of plotting to attack Americans in support of ISIL.
The 19-year-old is charged with attempting to provide material support for terrorists and was arrested by the FBI after they searched his home in Morganton Friday.
According to a federal complaint, Justin Nojan Sullivan, was charged after having several conversations with an undercover FBI employee about planning the attacks.
Sullivan appeared in federal court Monday and his parents sat next to WBTV's Sharon Smith.
Smith says his parents appeared to be shaken and heartbroken.
Federal investigators said in court that Sullivan wanted to kill his parents and 1,000 Americans.
Monday evening, Sullivan's father told WBTV he never expected his son would do something like this.
"I can never forgive him for what he planned or condone it. I'm a retired Marine. But we have to love him," Rich Sullivan said.
Sullivan's father was the one who call 911 in April to report his son's suspicious activity.
"It's deep. He got into deep. They're all over the internet and that's the problem. You have to watch your children. Even if you watch them, you think they're safe at home but they're not," Sullivan said.
Neighbor Gale Benton said the arrest hits too close to home. "You don't know where a young man like that goes wrong. I know he has good parents," said Dent.
She said she often saw Sullivan practicing his shooting outside, but now wonders if she could have possibly been a target one day.
"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 court documents, the FBI found out Sullivan was planning to get a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle at the Hickory Gun Show on Saturday. He planned to use it to kill "a large number of U.S. citizens on behalf of ISIL," the document shows.
According to the criminal complaint, an FBI undercover employee contacted Sullivan earlier this month and Sullivan described himself as "a mujahid," and as a Muslim convert living in the eastern United States.
He told the undercover officer that "the war is here," and gave the agent the opportunity to join what he called the Islamic State of North America.
The two reportedly discussed various terrorist attack concepts and how to get the weapon he needed at the gun show.
Counter-terrorism expert Ross Bulla said more cases like this are expected as ISIL tries to recruit young Americans. "They want to inspire a lone wolf and have someone attack the homeland," said Bulla.
Typically, said Bulla, the profile of a recruit would be a young person who is a loner, unhappy with friends and family, and becomes desensitized to violence.
It's unclear at the time of this publication how Sullivan may or may not share some of those characteristics.
Bulla said it's likely defense attorneys will argue that Sullivan did not intend to carry out his plans. He said they will try to paint him as "the kid next door" with rocky relationships.
However, Bulla said the evidence sounds compelling. "He certainly demonstrated the means, the intent, and the motivation to carry out the attack," he said.
Sullivan reportedly talked about the possibility of making homemade silencers and asked the undercover agent whether he would be able to make one. When the agent said that he thought he could, Sullivan told the agent "I'll need to have one built by next week."
According to the court documents, Sullivan said "I plan on using it this mont[h]," and that Sullivan planned on doing "minor assassinations before the big attack for training."
He reportedly planned to send a video to ISIL.
The federal complaint also says Sullivan told agents after the arrest that he didn't mean what he said in the planning conversations with the undercover officer.
If convicted of all charges, Sullivan could face 40 years in prison and a fine of $750,000.
"You just never know who you're living beside, I guess," said Benton about the boy who lived in the house with the American flag right outside the door.
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