ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) — A North Carolina man who plotted U.S. terror attacks with a member of the Islamic State group pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court to a terrorism charge, federal officials said.
Justin Nojan Sullivan, 20, of Morganton pleaded guilty in an Asheville courtroom to one count of attempting to commit an act of terrorism transcending national boundaries, federal officials said in a news release. He planned an attack at a concert, bar or club where he believed as many as 1,000 people would die, they said.
“Justin Sullivan planned to kill hundreds of innocent people,” said John A. Strong, special agent in charge of the FBI’s office in Charlotte. “He pledged his support to ISIL and took calculated steps to commit a murderous rampage to prove his allegiance to the terrorist organization.”
Sullivan said in court that he planned shootings in North Carolina and Virginia that would cause mass casualties, U.S. Attorney Jill Westmoreland Rose said. He also said he had “frequent and direct communications” with Junaid Hussain, an Islamic State member who asked him to make a video of the attack, she said.
Hussain, who was responsible for online recruitment and providing inspiration for attacks in Western countries, began conspiring with Sullivan by June 2015, the release said. Hussain was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Syria in August 2015.
But then Sullivan discussed those plans on social media with an undercover FBI employee, whom Sullivan tried to recruit to participate in the attacks, the release said.
He asked the undercover FBI employee to build silencers and told him that he planned to carry out his attack in the next few days. He was then arrested at his parents’ home.
His arrest came five months before terrorists attacked the Bataclan concert hall in Paris, killing 90 people. Nine victims remained hospitalized on the one-year anniversary of the attacks, and others are paralyzed. Hundreds still receive psychological treatment.
Federal authorities have said they began investigating Sullivan after his father called 911 in April 2015 saying his son was destroying religious items in their home. He was arrested at the family’s home without incident on June 19, and later told investigators that he planned to carry out an attack in the coming days when his parents were expected to be out of town, investigators have said.
He also had offered to pay the undercover employee for killing his parents, who he believed would interfere with his terrorism plans, the release said.
A sentencing hearing hasn’t been scheduled, although both sides agree a life sentence is appropriate, the release said.
Sullivan also faces state charges in the death of his neighbor, John Bailey Clark, who was killed in December 2014. At the hearing Tuesday, he didn’t say he had killed Clark; however, prosecutors reserved the right to prove the charge at the sentencing hearing.
Authorities have said Sullivan killed Clark and stole the man’s money so he could buy an assault rifle to carry out the attacks.