A North Carolina man was sentenced to life in prison on Tuesday for attempting to commit an act of mass terrorism in support of the Islamic State.
Justin Nojan Sullivan, 21, planned to kill as many as 1,000 people with a silenced assault rifle and film the whole event for an ISIS contact, according to a Justice Department press release.
"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 Jill Westmoreland Rose, U.S. attorney of the western district of North Carolina. "Sullivan’s allegiance to ISIS did not stop there. 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."
Sullivan had previously pled guilty to conspiring with Hussain to plan shooting spree attacks in North Carolina and Virginia. He discussed these plans on social media with an undercover FBI employee, which is what tipped federal officials off to Sullivan's intentions. Sullivan said that he intended to buy an AR-15 at a gun show; he subsequently attempted to purchase hollow point ammunition for the weapon.
Sullivan was planning to carry out his attack at a crowded venue—like a concert, bar, or club—and believed that he could kill as many as 1,000 people during his attack.
When Sullivan's parents found and confronted Sullivan about a silencer he had purchased for the attack, he offered to pay his FBI contact to kill them.
Sullivan's ISIS contact, Hussain, was killed by an American airstrike in Syria in August 2015. A 21 year-old British man, he was a leading member of "CyberCaliphate," an ISIS hacking unit, and one of ISIS's key recruiters.
Sullivan was also indicted in early 2016 for the murder of John Bailey Clark, 74, according to the Charlotte Observer. The federal indictment alleged that Sullivan robbed and murdered Clark for money to buy the aforementioned AR-15. That case is still ongoing.
In justifying its life sentence for Sullivan, the federal district court noted the similarity between Sullivan's planned attack and the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting last year in Orlando, Fla. The court determined, according to the Justice Department, that Sullivan's plan 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 court found that Sullivan's offense was cold and calculating."
If convicted of Clark's murder, Sullivan could face the death penalty on top of his life sentence.