ASHEVILLE, N.C. — A North Carolina man has been sentenced to life in prison for “attempting to commit an act of terrorism transcending national boundaries” by conspiring with a member of the barbaric Islamic group ISIS to carry out one or more terror attacks on American soil.
“[Justin] 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,” said U.S. Attorney Jill Westmoreland Rose of the Western District of North Carolina in a statement on Tuesday.
“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,” she explained.
Rose said that the sentence mirrors the severity of the crime and serves as a deterrent to others.
According to WLOS-TV, while Sullivan did not apologize for his actions during sentencing at the federal courthouse in Asheville, he repeatedly stated that he is not a “bad person” and that “things just happened.” His defense also argued that he has mental health issues.
Sullivan’s parents sat in the room, and at times became tearful during the hearing.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Sullivan, now 21, began watching watching violent ISIS videos on the Internet in 2014 and saved the recordings. He also reportedly destroyed his parents’ religious items, declaring himself to be a supporter of ISIS.
“I don’t know if it is ISIS or what, but he is destroying Buddhas and figurines and stuff,” his father Rich Sullivan reportedly said in a 911 call, tipping off authorities. “I mean, we are scared to leave the house.”
The following year, Sullivan allegedly discussed with now-deceased ISIS recruiter Junaid Hussain plans to carry out armed attacks in North Carolina and Virginia. But, as previously reported, little did Sullivan know that one of the people had talked to about the plot was an undercover FBI agent.
According to court documents, Sullivan told the agent that it was better to support ISIS in the U.S. rather than travel overseas, and soon purchased a weapon, asking the agent to build a silencer for him. He advised that he was plotting to carry out an attack at a concert, bar or club, estimating that they could kill about 1,000 people.
In keeping in contact with Hussain, Sullivan was asked to record the attack.
Sullivan also allegedly offered the undercover FBI agent compensation to kill his parents after they learned about the silencer.
In June 2015, Sullivan was arrested and a search warrant was issued for the discussed items. Last November, he accepted a plea agreement that carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
U.S. District Judge Martin Reidinger accepted the recommended life sentence on Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Justice outlines, because he “noted that Sullivan’s plan to murder innocent civilians at a social gathering was similar to the Orlando nightclub attack in 2016.”
“According to the court, Sullivan’s plan, however, was more sinister because he planned to use stealth—including a mask to hide his identity and a silencer to kill as many as possible, with the hope to escape and kill again,” the department outlined. “The court found that Sullivan’s offense was cold and calculating.”
“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,” said Special Agent in Charge John Strong in a statement.
“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.”