ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A federal grand jury indicted a Sterling man Tuesday with obstructing a terrorism investigation.
21-year-old Sean Andrew Duncan is accused of altering, destroying, mutilating, concealing and covering up a thumb drive and memory chip with the intent to delay and obstruct an FBI investigation. He was charged with obstruction of justice and faces up to 20 years in prison if he is convicted.
The indictment says that in February 2016, one of Duncan’s relatives told the FBI that Duncan may have been radicalized after converting to Islam. The relative told authorities that Duncan voiced his approval of westerners being beheaded in the Middle East.
Later that month, Duncan was denied entry into Turkey and returned to the United States. When he returned stateside, he deleted his Facebook account and changed his phone number.
In June 2017, the FBI learned that Duncan had been in contact with someone who had been detained in a foreign country for actively planning to travel to join ISIS. Sometime around February 2015, Duncan supposedly told the person that he wanted to make “hijrah” to Syria and that he wanted her to go with him.
Around this same time, the woman reportedly told Duncan she was upset a work because non-Muslim women were wearing revealing shorts. Duncan reportedly replied with a link to a website and message saying she could “try this;” the link contained pictures and redirected to an Inspire magazine article titled, “How to build a bomb in the kitchen of your Mom.”
The indictment says that in December 2016, Duncan contacted the woman and told her that he had returned from Turkey, where he and his wife were deported back to the U.S. He told her that he thought the FBI was monitoring him.
Sometime around October 2017, law enforcement authorities of a foreign government arrested one of their citizens, referred to as Recruiter 1, for inciting rebellion. Recruiter 1 is said to be an ISIS recruiter who is suspected of drawing foreign fighters from around the world to her home country by using social media.
Recruiter 1 kept names and phone numbers of people who requested to join her social media groups. Her 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 6, 2017, the Allegheny County Police Department gave a copy of Duncan’s phone to the FBI. The department obtained this copy during an investigation surrounding the recent death of Duncan’s infant child.
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, as well as paintball venues in the Pennsylvania area from in or around March 2017 to June 2017.
On December 29, 2017, FBI agents executed a search warrant at Duncan’s residence. Agents knocked on the door, identified themselves and announced that they were there to execute a search warrant, to no response.
They knocked on the door and announced their intention again, again receiving no response. Agents then forcibly opened the door, identified themselves and said that they were there to execute a search warrant.
Before the agents forcibly entered the home, Duncan ran out the back door barefoot and with something clenched in his fist. Agents guarding the back door yelled at Duncan to stop. Before stopping, Duncan threw a plastic baggie over the agents’ heads.
Agents recovered the baggie, which 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. When agents searched Duncan, they recovered a broken casing for a thumb drive from his pants pocket.