A 20-year-old North Carolina man has pleaded guilty to attempting to commit an act of international terrorism at the encouragement of the Islamic State group.
Federal prosecutors said Justin N. Sullivan intended to use an assault rifle equipped with a silencer and loaded with hollow-point bullets to gun down hundreds of people in North Carolina and Virginia, to prove his allegiance to Islamic State extremists.
Sullivan, whose plot unraveled when he confided in an undercover FBI agent, admitted his guilt in court Tuesday in Asheville, North Carolina, and said he had agreed to accept a sentence of life in prison.
Sullivan admitted he conspired with Junaid Hussain, a senior member of Islamic State responsible for online recruitment, U.S. officials said. There were frequent contacts between the American, who was a teenager at the time, and Hussain before federal agents moved in to arrest Sullivan in June of last year.
IS controller killed in airstrike
Hussain, a Briton who was believed to be the third highest-ranking member of IS, was killed in an airstrike in Syria in August 2015, U.S. officials said.
Court records said Sullivan discussed his attack plan with an undercover FBI agent he was trying to recruit. The young American had researched online how to manufacture firearm silencers, and he enlisted his supposed accomplice to build silencers they could use in an attack. Aiming for maximum casualties, Sullivan supposedly said he hoped to kill up to 1,000 people with automatic-rifle fire at a club, concert hall or bar.
Hussain, Sullivan's IS controller, asked him to be sure to record a video of the attack, which Sullivan promised to do. The defendant admitted in court documents to his deep involvement in every aspect of his attack plot.
He and the undercover agent were to have attended gun shows in the North Carolina-Virginia area on June 20 or 21, 2015, where they hoped to purchase automatic rifles. However, on June 19, law-enforcement agents arrested Sullivan at his parents' home, where they also recovered a gun silencer and other items related to the case.
Gun attack kills neighbor
U.S. officials said Sullivan was suspected of killing a neighbor, John Bailey Clark, in December 2014. Forensic testing showed the gun that killed Clark was owned by Sullivan's father; the son said later that he had stolen the weapon and hidden it beneath the family home.
Sullivan did not admit that he killed Clark, but prosecutors said they would present further evidence before he is sentenced. Court documents also showed that Sullivan's parents were suspicious about his activities, and that he intended to have them killed by the undercover FBI agent, in return for compensation, so they could not interfere with his attack plans.
The special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's office in Charlotte, North Carolina, John Strong, said: "Justin Sullivan planned to kill hundreds of innocent people. He pledged his support to [Islamic State] and took calculated steps to commit a murderous rampage to prove his allegiance to the terrorist organization."
VOA National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed to this story.