A Morganton man accused of planning a mass attack last year in support of an Islamic terrorist group has pleaded not guilty to the charges in federal court.
Justin Sullivan’s plea was entered this week in federal court in Asheville. The 20-year-old did not appear at his arraignment. His trial is scheduled for Oct. 24.
A new indictment filed this month alleges that Sullivan communicated directly with notorious Syria-based ISIS terrorist Junaid Hussain in 2015 while planning his first act of violence on behalf of the “Islamic State of North America.”
In that document, the U.S. Attorney’s Office says that Sullivan promised Hussain that he would make a video of his terrorist attacks that ISIS could use as propaganda.
Those email exchanges began June 9, 2015, the indictment says. They didn’t last long.
On June 19, 2015, Sullivan obtained the money he needed to buy an AR-15 assault rifle, the new indictment says. That same day, he and Hussain discussed the making of a video to go with Sullivan’s upcoming terrorist attack.
Two days later, the FBI arrested Sullivan at his parents’ home. Two months after that, Hussain, 21, an accomplished hacker and a key figure in ISIS’ online recruiting campaign, was killed in an American drone strike outside of Raqqa, Syria.
According to the New York Times, the British-raised Hussain, also known as Abu Hussain al-Brittani, was a key figure in the Islamic State’s use of social media to recruit fighters and spread propaganda. His specific group, known as the CyberCaliphate, has also been linked to terrorist acts in Britain and the United States.
Whether Hussain personally recruited Sullivan to the ISIS cause is unclear. But their alleged association has brought new criminal allegations against Sullivan. The new indictment charges him with conspiring and attempting to commit an attack of terrorism transcending national boundaries. The crimes carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
Sullivan, 20, already faces the death penalty in a capital murder charge against him in Burke County. He is accused of the December 2014 shooting death of an elderly neighbor, John Bailey Clark, 74. State and federal prosecutors say Sullivan killed and robbed Clark as part of his larger plot to acquire the firepower needed to launch the larger terrorist attack that he allegedly bragged about to Hussain.
His Burke County trial has not been scheduled.