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Sterling man indicted for obstructing terrorism investigation

Sean Andrew Duncan
A federal grand jury returned an indictment Tuesday charging a Sterling man with obstructing a terrorism investigation.

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.

According to the Justice Department, in February 2016, the FBI received information from one of Duncan’s relatives that Duncan had converted to Islam, may have been radicalized and voiced his approval of westerners being beheaded in the Middle East. Later in February 2016, Duncan was denied entry into Turkey and returned to the U.S. 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. In or around February 2015, Duncan told the individual that he wanted to make “hijrah” to Syria and that he wanted her to go with him. Around this same time, the individual told Duncan she was upset at work due to non-Muslim women wearing shorts that exposed their bodies. Duncan replied with a link to a website, and a message saying she could “try this.” The link contained pictures and instructions on how to make weapons and bombs. The link was to an article titled, “How to build a bomb in the kitchen of your Mom” from Inspire magazine. In December 2016, Duncan contacted the individual and told her that he had come back from Turkey, where he and his wife were deported back to the United States.

Duncan said he thought the FBI was monitoring him.

In or around October 2017, according to federal officials, law enforcement authorities of a foreign government arrested one of their citizens, “Recruiter 1,” for inciting rebellion. Recruiter 1 is an ISIS recruiter who is suspected of drawing foreign fighters from around the world to Recruiter 1’s home country using social media.

Recruiter 1 kept names and telephone numbers of individuals who had requested to join her Telegram, Facebook or other social media and communication application groups. Recruiter 1’s notes included a handwritten name appearing to be “Sean Ibn Gary Duncan,” with Duncan’s known previous phone number and known previous mobile messaging account.

Around October 2017, the Allegheny County Police Department in Pennsylvania provided a copy of Duncan’s phone to the FBI. The police department had obtained this copy during an investigation surrounding the recent death of Duncan’s infant child -- with the cause of death in the autopsy being inconclusive. The FBI’s review of Duncan’s imaged phone revealed numerous internet searches for ISIS-related material, ISIS attacks, weapons, body armor, surveillance and defense tactics and paintball venuesin.

On Dec. 29, 2017, FBI agents executed the search warrant at Duncan’s Sterling residence. As they were executing the warrant, the agents knocked on the door, identified themselves as FBI and announced that they were there to execute a search warrant. Receiving no response, the agents knocked and announced their presence again but again received no response. The agents then forcibly opened the door.

Moments before the FBI agents entered the residence through the front door, Duncan ran out the back door, barefoot and carrying 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. The bag contained 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 is now charged with obstruction of justice and faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison if convicted. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties, authorities said. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Tracy Doherty-McCormick, acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Andrew W. Vale, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, made the announcement after the indictment was returned. Assistant U.S. attorneys Gordon D. Kromberg and Colleen E. Garcia are prosecuting the case.


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