An 18-year-old Chicago-area man was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation at O’Hare International Airport for trying to join a foreign terrorist group.
Abdella Ahmad Tounisi, of Aurora, Illinois, was taken into custody late yesterday without incident as he was getting on a flight for Istanbul with plans to travel on to Syria, the FBI said in a statement.
He’s charged with one count of attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, a crime punishable by as long as 15 years in prison if he is convicted, according to the FBI.
“The investigation that culminated in Tounisi’s arrest began in 2012,” Cory B. Nelson, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Chicago office, said in the statement. “There is no connection between this case and the events that occurred over the last several days in Boston.”
While Tounisi’s case is unrelated to the April 15 bomb attack near the finish line of the Boston Marathon that left three people dead and more than 170 injured, he is a “close friend” of Adel Daoud, who was indicted in September for allegedly plotting to explode a bomb near a downtown Chicago bar as an act of jihad, or holy war, the FBI said.
Charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and of trying to destroy a building with an explosive, Daoud, 19, pleaded not guilty in October and remains in federal custody. The device he allegedly attempted to detonate was a fake car bomb supplied by U.S. agents after he had told undercover agents of his interest in waging holy war.
“Tounisi and Daoud appeared to share an interest in violent jihad,” the FBI said today, adding that Tounisi didn’t participate in Daoud’s attempted bombing.
Tounisi was traveling to Syria to join a jihadist militant group operating inside Syria, according to the bureau. He allegedly conducted Internet research on Jabhat al-Nusrah, listed by the U.S. State Department as an alias for al-Qaeda in Iraq, a designated foreign terrorist organization.
He confided his plans to travel to Syria to a person he believed to be a Jabhat al-Nusrah recruiter who was, in reality, working for the FBI.
Tounisi made an initial court appearance today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Daniel G. Martin in Chicago. He’s being held pending a detention hearing before Martin scheduled for April 23, Randall Samborn, a spokesman for acting Chicago U.S. Attorney Gary Shapiro, said in an e-mailed message.
Tounisi is being represented by attorney Matt Madden of Chicago, Samborn said. Madden couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Authorities in Watertown, Massachusetts, arrested Dzhokar Tsarnaev, 19, yesterday in connection with the marathon bombings. His brother. Tamerlan, 26, was killed in a shoot-out with police a night earlier.
The case is U.S. v. Tounisi, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).