Sterling man accused of trying to join ISIS faces 20 years in terrorism case

(PHOTO: MGN)

ALEXANDRIA, VA. – A Sterling man was indicted Tuesday for obstructing a terrorism investigation, officials say.

According to allegations in the indictment, Sean Andrew Duncan, 21, altered, destroyed, mutilated, concealed, and covered up a thumb drive and memory chip with the intent to impede and obstruct an FBI investigation.

The FBI received information from one of Duncan’s relatives that Duncan converted to Islam, may have been radicalized, and has voiced approval of westerners being beheaded in the Middle East. In February 2016, Duncan was denied entry into Turkey and returned to the United States. Upon his return, Duncan deleted his Facebook account and changed his phone number.

In June 2017, the FBI learned that Duncan had been in contact with an individual who had been detained in a foreign country for actively planning to travel to join ISIS. Officials say Duncan also sent links to another individual containing instructions on how to make bombs. The FBI also found Duncan conducted internet searches for ISIS-related material and attacks, weapons, body armor, and defense tactics.

On December 29, 2017, FBI agents executed the search warrant at Duncan’s residence. Prosecutors say moments before the FBI agents entered the residence through the front door, Duncan ran out the back door, barefoot, and with something clenched in his fist.  FBI agents guarding the back door yelled at Duncan to stop. Before stopping, Duncan threw a plastic baggie over the heads of the agents. FBI agents recovered the baggie thrown by Duncan. Court documents show the baggie was a clear plastic Ziploc bag, containing a memory chip from a thumb drive that had been snapped into pieces, and placed in a liquid substance that produced frothy white bubbles. Upon searching Duncan, agents recovered a broken casing for a thumb drive from Duncan’s pants pocket.

Duncan has been charged with obstruction of justice, and faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison if convicted, officials say. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.