Abdella Ahmad Tounisi, the suburban Chicago teenager accused of trying to join an al-Qaeda ally in Syria, must remain in federal custody, a U.S. judge ruled.
U.S. District Judge Edmond E. Chang in Chicago today reversed a federal magistrate’s decision yesterday to let Tounisi, 18, be released into his father’s custody and confined with electronic monitoring to his Aurora, Illinois, home.
Federal agents arrested Tounisi on April 19 at O’Hare International Airport as he was about to board a flight to Istanbul with plans to travel on to Syria, according to a Federal Bureau of Investigation statement issued April 20.
“The record, as it stands, demonstrates to me there are no conditions that can reasonably assure his appearance” at trial, Chang ruled after a court hearing today.
At the hearing, prosecutor William Ridgway argued that Tounisi was both a flight risk and a danger to the community.
Tounisi pressed on with efforts to join Jabhat al-Nusrah, listed by the U.S. State Department as an alias for al-Qaeda in Iraq, a designated foreign terrorist organization, even after a close friend was arrested by the FBI and Tounisi was questioned by federal agents, Ridgway said.
The friend, Adel Daoud, 19, was apprehended in September in an FBI sting operation after trying to detonate a bomb outside a bar in downtown Chicago. The bomb was a phony supplied to him by an undercover federal agent. Daoud has pleaded not guilty and is being held pending trial.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Daniel G. Martin said yesterday that Tounisi was entitled to a presumption of innocence and, calling the decision “close,” concluded the defendant could be safely confined to his parents’ home under his father’s supervision.
Tounisi’s lawyer, Molly Armour, told Chang today that her client isn’t a flight risk and that his father and members of his community, about 30 of whom filled the magistrate’s courtroom yesterday, would take an active role in assuring Tounisi’s compliance with the terms of his release.
“It’s unusual to see that level of community support,” she said.
Because Tounisi persisted with his plans after Daoud’s arrest, after being questioned and after warnings from family members, Chang said he had “little confidence” the support community Armour described could contain him.
“I must not undermine the presumption of innocence,” the judge said. “At the same time, the Constitution does permit pretrial detention if the facts warrant it.”
The case is U.S. v. Tounisi, 13-cr-00328, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).
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