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Feds appeal order to release teen allegedly tied to terror group

AbdellAhmad Tounisi Aurora. | Handout photo~Tounisi family

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

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Updated: June 4, 2013 6:27AM

Prosecutors say Abdella Ahmed Tounisi is a potentially dangerous terrorist who’s been caught on tape saying he wants to die a martyr.

But in a highly unusual move, a judge on Thursday afternoon agreed to release the 18-year-old alleged al-Qaida wannabe from jail and instead place him under house arrest with electronic monitoring at his family’s home in west suburban Aurora.

Magistrate Judge Daniel Martin’s unexpected ruling was quickly appealed by the U.S. Attorney’s office, however, meaning Tounisi won’t be freed unless U.S. District Judge Edmond Chang approves it at a hearing scheduled for Friday morning.

The boyish Tounisi, standing just 5 feet 6 inches and weighing only 120 pounds, mostly stood mute during a passionately argued detention hearing Thursday, speaking only in a weak, high-pitched voice to confirm that he could follow proceedings.

“I wonder if you understand the seriousness of this,” Martin sternly told him in front of a packed courtroom at the Dirksen Federal Building.

Tounisi’s freedom would be “hanging by a thread,” and would be revoked if he breaks any of the “narrow” conditions of his release, the judge warned.

Arrested on April 19 as he tried to board a plane to Turkey at O’Hare, Tounisi is accused of plotting to join up with the al-Qaida group Jabhat al-Nusrah to fight in Syria.

He’s also accused — though not charged with — helping his best pal, Adel Daoud, select a South Loop bar as a bombing target last year.

In both cases, the terrorist contacts Tounisi and Daoud thought they were plotting with were actually undercover FBI agents, according to court papers.

During the hearing on Thursday, Assistant U.S. Attorney William Ridgeway said Tounisi posed a risk to the community and was a flight risk. Tounisi continued to plot his trip to Syria even after his pal Daoud was arrested and Tounisi was interviewed by the FBI last year, Ridgeway said.

Wiretapped telephone calls from earlier this year show that his parents were “powerless” to control him, the prosecutor added.

Even after they took away his passport and counseled him against his extremist views, he managed to order a replacement passport and to book a flight to Turkey, Ridgeway said.

But defending Tounisi, attorney Molly Armour said that the teen was backed in court by 30 members of the west suburban Muslim community and a “strong family.”

“He has such a deep respect for the leaders of this community,” she said, adding that Tounisi had also been taped by the feds “disavowing the kind of violence they’re accusing him of.”

Tounisi’s father, Ahmad, told the judge he’d ensure his son follows the court’s rules.

Martin said it was a “very close issue” whether Tounisi should be freed. He initially ordered Tounisi to look for a job while under house arrest, but later changed his mind, and warned Tounisi’s father that he’d have to pay $50,000 if Tounisi violates his bond.

Defendants in similar cases have typically remained locked up at the downtown Metropolitan Correctional Center while awaiting trial — an argument prosecutors may make in their appeal on Friday.

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