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Judge reverses decision; teen terror suspect to remain locked up

Seham Tounisi shades mother AbdellAhmed Tounisi family members along with attorney Molly Armour walks out Dirksen Federal Building Chicago Friday

Seham Tounisi, in shades, mother of Abdella Ahmed Tounisi, and family members along with attorney Molly Armour walks out the Dirksen Federal Building, Chicago, on Friday, May 3, 2013. | Ting Shen~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: June 5, 2013 6:10AM



Alleged Aurora al-Qaida wannabe Abdella Ahmed Tounisi’s bid for freedom was dashed Friday when a federal judge reversed a previous ruling and ordered that he remain in jail.

U.S. District Judge Edmond Chang said he found that Tounisi, 18, is “not just a flight risk but that he will pose a danger to the community,” if he is released.

The teen, accused of trying to travel to Syria to join the al-Qaida-affiliated terror group Jabhat al-Nusrah on the battlefield, has been locked up since April 19, when he was arrested at O’Hare as he boarded a flight to Turkey.

His hopes of being released on bond were raised Thursday when, in a highly unusual move for a terrorism case, Magistrate Judge Daniel Martin ordered him placed under home detention.

But Chang overturned Martin’s ruling at an appeal hearing Friday, after prosecutors convinced Chang that releasing Tounisi was too risky — a decision that left the teen’s mother in tears.

Representing Tounisi, attorney Molly Armour had argued that Tounisi’s arrest and detention in an FBI sting had devastated both him and his family and made him less likely to skip bond.

“They have been through everything,” Armour said, “We are talking about changed circumstances.”

When combined with electronic monitoring, the supervision of his father and the knowledge that “the whole community is watching him,” the “incredibly restrictive” conditions Martin placed on Tounisi’s release would have been enough to reasonably protect the public, she said.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney William Ridgeway said Tounisi was a “determined” and “resourceful” would-be terrorist, who had “no qualms about lying to authorities” to get a replacement passport after his parents took his away. Tounisi had continued to pursue his interest in joining “the vanguard of al-Qaida” even after he was questioned by the FBI following the arrest of his best friend, Adel Daoud, in connection with a downtown bombing plot last year, Ridgeway said.

The prosecutor added that wiretaps showed that Tounisi’s parents knew and disapproved of his plans to travel to Syria and “die a martyr,” but were unable to control him.

Revealing new details about the case, Ridgeway said Tounisi had stopped going to classes at the College of DuPage and instead spent time researching violent jihad in the college’s computer lab.

And before Tounisi used a financial aid grant that was meant to pay for his education to pay for his plane ticket to Turkey, Ridgeway added, one of his relatives was secretly recorded telling his mother that she had warned Tounisi “If you go, do not think you will die a martyr, you will die like a road kill.”

Tounisi is being held in the Loop’s Metropolitan Correctional Center, where he is barred from any contact with his pal and fellow inmate, Daoud.



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