An 18-year-old from Aurora who was arrested at O’Hare Airport planned to travel to war-torn Syria and hoped to join a “jihadist militant” group tied to al-Qaeda, federal authorities said Saturday.
An 18-year-old Aurora man linked to a man charged with trying to bomb a Chicago bar last year has been arrested at O’Hare Airport as he tried to board a flight for Istanbul, Turkey, on his way to war-torn Syria to join a “jihadist militant” terrorist group tied to al-Qaeda, federal authorities said Saturday.Abdella Ahmad Tounisi was taken into custody without incident late Friday by the Chicago FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force after going through airport security, headed for the flight to Turkey, according to the FBI, which said he
hoped to join Jabhat al-Nusrah, an al-Qaida-affiliated group fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime in a civil war.
Tounisi, a U.S. citizen, was charged with attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. If convicted, the charge carries a maximum 15-year prison term.
He appeared in court Saturday in Chicago before U.S. Magistrate Judge Daniel G. Martin, who ordered him held in custody for a court appearance Tuesday.
There are no links between Tounisi and the Boston Marathon bombings earlier in the week, Cory Nelson, the FBI chief in Chicago, said in announcing the arrest.
Tounisi, a U.S. citizen, was snared in an Internet sting after contacting a sham website set up by the FBI that purported to hook up would-be fighters with terrorists, according to the federal criminal complaint against him.
The complaint says that between January and April, Tounisi searched online for information about travel from Chicago to Syria, obtained a new passport and, beginning in late March, made contact online with someone he thought was a recruiter for Jabhat al-Nusrah but who was actually an FBI agent.
At the top of the website were the words, “A Call for Jihad in Syria.” The site invited interested parties to “come and join your lion brothers ... who are fighting under the true banner of Islam.” The site advised users on how to conceal their Internet tracks, the complaint says.
It says that in the email exchanges, Tounisi described his plan to get to Syria through neighboring Turkey and that he spoke of his willingness to die for the cause. He boughthis airline ticket on April 10,and the undercover FBI agent provided him with a bus ticket for travel from Istanbul to the Turkish city of Gaziantep, near the border with Syria, the complaint says.
The 18-year-old was frank about his lack of fighting experience, according to the complaint, which says in one email he wrote: “Concerning my fighting skills, to be honest, I do not have any. I’m very small ... physically but I pray to Allah that he makes me successful.”
Email responses to Tounisi from the undercover FBI agent referred to Tounisi as “Brother Abdullah” and encouraged him not to despair about his lack of battle skills.
Authorities said Tounisi believed he would be joining Jabhat al-Nusrah, which they described as a well-organized rebel faction fighting Assad’s regime. Late last year, the U.S. State Department designated Jabhat al-Nusrah a foreign terrorist organization, saying it’s an alias for al-Qaeda in Iraq.
According to the complaint, Tousini’s Internet searches included the phrases “martyrdom operations,” “providing material support what does it mean” and “Terrorism Act 2000.”
The criminal complaint says Tounisi was a close friend of Adel Daoud, a suburban arrested last year on charges he sought to detonate a device he thought was a bomb outside a downtown bar. Daoud has pleaded “not guilty” and is in jail awaiting trial.
Tounisi and Daoud appeared to share an interest in “violent jihad,” according to the FBI. But while Tounisi allegedly discussed attack techniques and targets prior to Daoud’s arrest, Tounisi did not participate in Daoud’s actions, the FBI said.
The complaint does not accuse Tounisi of participating in the alleged attack planned by Daoud, though it does contend the two friends discussed possible targets before Daoud’s arrest.