A Morganton man who authorities arrested in 2015 appeared in federal court in Asheville Wednesday after authorities say he plotted a terror attack in support of the Islamic State terrorist group and murdered his neighbor . Justin Nojan Sullivan’s attorney told the judge her client is pleading not guilty and has asked to go to trial in front of a jury.
Sullivan did not appear in court Wednesday. He remained in the Buncombe County Detention Facility where he has been held since September 2015, according to sheriff records.
The trial has been set for Oct. 31, according to court proceedings in Asheville’s U.S. Federal District Court. The maximum punishment Sullivan could face if he is found guilty by a jury is life in prison.
The 20-year-old was charged with one count of attempting to provide material to support a designated foreign terrorist organization, one count of transporting and receiving a silencer in interstate commerce with intent to commit a felony, and one count of receipt and possession of an unregistered silencer, unidentified by a serial number, according to a bill of indictment filed Aug. 16 in Charlotte.
He faces charges of one count of receipt and one count of possession of an unregistered firearm, one count of possession of a stolen firearm, one count of interstate facilities in the attempted commission of murder-for-hire, and two counts of providing a false statement to an agency of the United States, according to the indictment.
Other charges include one count of conspiring to commit an act of terrorism transcending national boundaries, and one count of attempt to commit act of terrorism transcending national boundaries, court documents state.
According to court paperwork, Sullivan shot and killed a 74-year-old man to practice for a terror attack. He faces murder charges, according to the indictment.
In September 2014, Sullivan converted to Islam and began watching violent ISIL acts, such as beheadings, on the internet, court paperwork states. He then began destroying religious items in his parents’ home.
Sullivan took a firearm from his parents’ home in December to murder his neighbor who lived a few houses down, according to an indictment filed in the case. He hid the rifle, a black ski mask and lock pick kit in a crawl space in his parents’ home after the alleged killing, according to court documents.
Six months later, Sullivan began providing material to ISIL to plan terror attacks, and discussed plans with an undercover agent who he tried to recruit to join in the attacks, according to court documents.
Sullivan was in communication with the terrorist group through social media and electronic devices from his home in Burke County, according to the grand jury charges.
In one conversation Sullivan had with the terrorist group he said, “I liked IS from the beginning. Then I started thinking about death and stuff so I became Muslim,” court paperwork states.
In another conversation, Sullivan was asked if he thought he could kill, which he responded “yes” and said “I’ll kill people this month,” according to a conversation he had with ISIL around June 7, 2015.
A criminal complaint alleges the FBI learned of plans by Sullivan to obtain a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle at the Hickory Gun Show on June 20 of last year, which he planned to use to kill U.S. citizens on behalf of ISIL.
Sullivan planned to carry out his attack in the following days at a concert, bar or club where he believed as many as 1,000 people could be in attendance, according to the indictment.
A few days later, Sullivan was questioned by his parents about his purchase of a silencer, according to court paperwork. He feared that his parents would interfere with his plans, so he offered the terrorist group compensation to kill his parents.