North Carolina man gets life in prison for plotting Islamic State attack

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Justin Sullivan, 21, of Morganton is seen in a booking photo at the Buncombe County Detention Facility in Asheville

By Ian Simpson

(Reuters) – A North Carolina man accused of murdering his neighbor and offering to pay an undercover agent to kill his parents was sentenced to life in prison on Tuesday for plotting mass shootings in the name of Islamic State, U.S. prosecutors said.

Justin Sullivan, 21, of Morganton, was sentenced in federal court in Asheville on one count of attempting to commit an act of terrorism transcending national boundaries, the Justice Department said in a statement.

Sullivan had pleaded guilty in November 2016, and the agreement with prosecutors called for the life sentence.

Prosecutors said Sullivan conspired with Junaid Hussain, a British hacker who was an online recruiter of people to carry out attacks on behalf of the militant group Islamic State. Hussain was killed by a U.S. air strike in Syria in 2015.

Islamic State has carried out or inspired attacks in the United States, Europe and elsewhere.

Sullivan had discussed his plot online with an undercover federal agent, making plans to buy a semi-automatic rifle at a gun show and discussing potential targets.

Sullivan said he would use the rifle at a concert, bar or club in an effort to kill as many as 1,000 people, the Justice Department statement said.

At Sullivan’s request, the undercover agent sent a homemade silencer to his home.

Sullivan’s mother opened the package. When his parents questioned him about the silencer, Sullivan offered to pay the agent to kill them so they would not interfere with his plans, the statement said. He was arrested in June 2015.

At the sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge Martin Reidinger likened Sullivan’s plan to the deadly nightclub attack in Orlando in 2016. But he said his plot to use a silencer to kill as many people as possible made it even more sinister, prosecutors said in their statement.

Sullivan told the judge he was not “a cold-blooded killer,” the Charlotte Observer newspaper reported.

Sullivan also faces a murder charge in state court in the 2014 death of his neighbor, John Bailey Clark. Prosecutors, who plan to seek the death penalty in that case, have said Sullivan told investigators he stole his father’s rifle for use in that crime.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Dan Grebler)

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