By Sharon McBrayer
The federal government has charged a Morganton, NC, man with helping the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, better known as the terrorist organization ISIL, saying he plotted to shoot people with cyanide-laced bullets and blow people up using a vehicle filled with bombs.
The man also planned minor attacks for practice before a bigger attack and to send a video of the attacks to the terrorist organization.
Justin Nojan Sullivan, 19, of 5470 Rose Carswell Road, Morganton, has been charged with one count of attempting to provide material support to ISIL, one count of transporting and receiving a silencer in interstate commerce with intent to commit a felony and one count of receipt and possession of an unregistered silencer, unidentified by a serial number. He is facing a total maximum sentence of 40 years for the charges and fines totaling $510,000.
A criminal complaint against Sullivan was filed Monday in federal court.
Sullivan was arrested without incident at his home Friday, according to a release from the U.S. Department of Justice.
“Sullivan is charged with attempting to provide material support to ISIL, a designated terrorist organization that poses a serious threat to our country’s security,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Jill Westmoreland Rose of the western district of N.C. “My highest priority is to detect and prosecute violent extremists and protect innocent Americans from terrorist attacks.”
The criminal complaint alleges that the FBI became aware of Sullivan’s plans to obtain a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle at the Hickory Gun Show in Hickory on Saturday, which he planned to use to kill a large number of U.S. citizens on behalf of ISIL. He planned to kill at the end of the month, according to federal documents.
According to an FBI affidavit, Sullivan, who called himself a Muslim convert, has referred to his desire to kill as many as 1,000 people.
It was the man’s father who first called law enforcement about his son’s behavior.
The affidavit says Sullivan’s father called 911 in late April to say his son was destroying religious items and figurines, and had done so previously and he didn’t know if it was influence from ISIS.
“I mean, we are scared to leave the house,” Sullivan’s father told police at the time.
But the father had reason to be afraid in his own home, according to the FBI affidavit.
Sullivan, who described himself as a mujahid, lived with his parents, the affidavit says. According to the FBI, a mujahid is someone engaged in Jihad, particularly as a guerilla warrior. During conversations with the agent, Sullivan used certain Arabic terms to refer to areas of the world, certain organizations and acts.
During conversations with an undercover agent, Sullivan had asked the agent to kill his parents and that he would send money and his parents’ location to the agent, an affidavit says.
An undercover agent made contact with Sullivan, who invited the agent to join the Islamic State of North America, on June 6. In several phone conversations, Sullivan asked the agent to supply a gun “suppressor.” He also asked the agent to prove he was serious by killing people. He also talked about using biological weapons, including coating bullets with cyanide.
“1,000…Yes, I’m thinking about using biological weapons…Coat our bullets with cyanide…and then set off a gas bomb to finish off the rest…it’s easy to make,” the affidavit says Sullivan told the agent.
“Our attacks needs to be as big as possible…we can do minor assassinations before the big attack for training,” Sullivan said to the agent, according to documents. He talked about using a moving van filled with explosives and detonating it.
On June 12, Sullivan told the agent he needed the suppressor by the end of the week, which was Friday, the day he was arrested. The two talked about how the agent should mail the suppressor to Sullivan, with the agent asking for Sullivan’s address.
On Wednesday, FBI agents observed Sullivan going to a local library and reading the book, “The History of al Qaeda.”
“The FBI built a functional silencer at Sullivan’s request,” the affidavit says. “That silencer does not bear the required serial number, and is not registered to Sullivan or any person in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record.” The silencer was built from a flashlight, it says.
The FBI sent the silencer to the address Sullivan gave the agent and his mother picked up the package at the mailbox Friday afternoon. Sullivan was at home at the time. Agents received consent from Sullivan’s mother and had a federal search warrant to search the home that day.
Agents found the “silencer” hidden under plastic in a crawlspace that was accessible from the basement. They also found around $689 in Sullivan’s bedroom.
Sullivan was interviewed and talked about his discussions to help ISIL but said he didn’t mean it and didn’t plan to carry out what he had discussed, the affidavit says.
“Sullivan said he initiated the conversation with the (agent) about the planned terrorist attacks,” the affidavit says. “Sullivan said he talked with the (agent) about doing attacks with a firearm at a bar or concert, places that were not very far away, and admitted that he had looked in the online yellow pages for places to attack.”
The affidavit goes on to say Sullivan planned on conducting the attacks between Sunday and Tuesday, because he parents would be out of town. He told the FBI that his father demanded to see what was in the package he received on Friday and he told his parents it was a filter to catch cleaning solvent.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office said the charges are allegations and that Sullivan is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
Sullivan had his first appearance in federal court Monday. He is in federal custody and has a detention hearing at 10:45 a.m. Wednesday in Asheville, according to officials with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The FBI had support in the case from the Burke County Sheriff’s Office, Hickory Police Department, the North Carolina State Highway Patrol and the Charlotte division of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.