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Aurora dad doubts son tried to join al-Qaida-linked group: ‘They could entrap anybody’

AbdellAhmad Tounisi Aurora. | Handout photo~Tounisi family

Abdella Ahmad Tounisi of Aurora. | Handout photo~Tounisi family

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Updated: May 23, 2013 6:41AM

The father of an Aurora man was shocked to hear from FBI agents turning his house upside-down Friday night that his son had been charged with trying to link up with an al-Qaida affiliated terrorist group in Syria. He thinks his son was entrapped by federal authorities.

Standing outside his home Sunday, Ahmad Tounisi recalled how his 18-year-old son, Abdella Ahmad Tounisi, had talked of going to Tunisia, Egypt and Syria to aid the oppressed — but nothing violent.

“I didn’t take it seriously because he doesn’t have the means to, he has no money, so there are a lot of things I don’t know at this point, but I need to talk to him first,” Tounisi said.

“I don’t think he would actually do what the government is saying he was planning to do. To me, it’s all assumption on the government’s part,” said Tounisi, who refused to let the FBI interview his 13-year-old son. After a three-hour search, FBI agents left with a PlayStation video console, he said. Tounisi said he and his wife emigrated from Jordan, but his children were born in the United States.

Tounisi’s son was arrested Friday night as he tried to board a plane at O’Hare Airport. Authorities say he intended to fly to Istanbul, Turkey, and from there travel to Syria to join the terrorist group Jabhat al-Nusrah.

A federal complaint against Abdella Tounisi cited emails he thought he was sending to terrorists, but he was actually communicating with FBI agents who had set up a sham website calling for jihad.

“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,” read an email Abdella Tounisi allegedly wrote. He is 5 foot 6 and weighs about 120 pounds. He expressed his “willingness to die for the cause.”

Email responses from the FBI referred to Abdella Tounisi as “Brother Abdullah” and encouraged him not to despair about his lack of battle skills.

He 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 Abdella Tounisi and the Boston Marathon bombings, authorities said.

After learning of last week’s attack, Abdella Tounisi was in shock and called for justice for the victims, his father said.

“He was in disbelief. He said, ‘Whoever did this should be punished.’ ”

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

Late last year, the U.S. State Department designated the group, which is fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — a foreign terrorist organization, saying it’s an alias for al-Qaida in Iraq. The organization has taken credit for hundreds of terrorist attacks.

Between January and April, Abdella Tounisi searched online for information about travel from Chicago to Syria, obtained a new passport and, beginning in late March, allegedly reached out to Islamic militants that turned out to be FBI agents.

The criminal complaint also says Abdella 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 Chicago bar. Daoud has pleaded not guilty and is in jail awaiting trial.

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

Tounisi and Daoud appeared to share an interest in “violent jihad,” according to the FBI. But while Abdella Tounisi allegedly discussed attack techniques and targets before Daoud was arrested, he did not participate in Daoud’s actions, deciding not to join because he thought Daoud might have been set up by authorities, the complaint said.

On Sunday, Tounisi’s father said his son was an “acquaintance” of Daoud’s.

“They’re trying to link my son to this boy, but I don’t think my son knew this boy was talking seriously, and he kept telling him it was wrong to do,” he said.

Tounisi said his son was attending the College of DuPage and wanted to be a radiologist. He last saw his son on Thursday, when he told his father he’d be visiting a mosque for a few days.

“He’s not the type that wants to hurt anybody, he wants to alleviate suffering,” Tounisi said about his son. “They could entrap anybody, they could send anybody anything and when you’re young and impressionable, your gonna believe it. If that’s the case, that’s the case. I am just generalizing this issue right now because a lot of kids in the Muslim community have been entrapped just like this, anybody that goes to the mosque five times a day and he’s holding onto his religion really good, he is a red flag.”

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