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FBI: Aurora man, 18, tried to join group linked to al-Qaida

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Updated: May 22, 2013 7:07AM



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.

Abdella Ahmad Tounisi, who was linked to a man charged with trying to bomb a Chicago bar last year, was arrested before boarding the plane.

Tounisi, a U.S. citizen, was taken into custody without incident late Friday by the Chicago FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. He had gone through airport security, headed for a flight to Istanbul, Turkey, according to the FBI, which said Tounisi

hoped to join Jabhat al-Nusrah, an al-Qaeda-affiliated group fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime in a civil war.

Tounisi was charged with attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.

He appeared in court Saturday in Chicago before U.S. Magistrate Judge Daniel G. Martin, who ordered him kept 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 was caught 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.

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 through the website with someone he thought was a recruiter for Jabhat al-Nusrah but who was actually an FBI agent.

The top of the website said “A Call for Jihad In Syria,” and it asked would-be fighters to “come and join your lion brothers of Jabhat Al-Nusra who are fighting under the true banner of Islam, come and join your brothers, the heroes of Jabhat Al-Nusra,” according to the complaint.

In e-mail exchanges with the undercover FBI agent, Tounisi described his plan to get to Syria through neighboring Turkey and spoke of “his willingness to die for the cause,” according to authorities.

He was frank with the purported recruiter, according to the FBI. In one email Tounisi 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,” according to the complaint.

Email responses to Tounisi from the undercover 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. The organization has taken credit for hundreds of terrorist attacks.

According to the criminal complaint against him, Tounisi also conducted Internet searches for the phrases “martyrdom operations,” “providing material support what does it mean” and “Terrorism Act 2000.”

Tounisi’s attorney did not return calls Saturday. Tounisi’s father told NBC5: “I feel that my son is innocent.”

“His perfect world is a world that doesn’t have any rape, that doesn’t have any oppressors, that doesn’t have any” injustice.

The criminal complaint says Tounisi was a close friend of Adel Daoud, a suburban man 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.

The FBI said it had interviewed Tounisi after Daoud’s arrest.

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 complaint said, deciding not to join in because he thought Daoud might have been set up by authorities.

But the complaint says: “Tounisi’s interest in violent jihad continued, notwithstanding Daoud’s arrest.”

Tounisi also allegedly sought advice from the undercover FBI agent about traveling from Istanbul to the Turkish city of Gaziantep, near the border with Syria.

On the day Tounisi was to fly out of Chicago, authorities said he wrote to the purported recruiter: “If I do not make it at the bus stop in Gaziantep please know that I have either been arrested in the US or in Turkey.”

Contributing: AP



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