Abdella Ahmad Tounisi, a suburban Chicago teenager arrested last month as he was about to board a flight for Turkey, was indicted for trying to join an al-Qaeda ally in Syria.
In the two-count indictment, Tounisi, who was 18 when he was arrested on April 19 at O’Hare International Airport, is also charged with lying to U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agents at the airport about the purpose of his trip and his itinerary. The indictment is dated May 16 and was posted on the electronic docket today in federal court in Chicago.
A U.S. citizen, Tounisi was allegedly attempting to join Jabhat al-Nusrah, a “jihadist militant group operating inside Syria” and an alias of al-Qaeda in Iraq, according to an affidavit by Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Dwayne Golomb attached to a criminal complaint filed last month.
He faces as long as 15 years in prison if found guilty of attempting to provide material support to the group, designated a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. government, and as long as eight years if he’s convicted of lying to federal agents. Tounisi has been in custody since his arrest.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Daniel G. Martin on May 2 ordered him released into his father’s custody and confined to his Aurora, Illinois, home with electronic monitoring. U.S. District Judge Edmond E. Chang reversed that ruling the next day, concluding the no conditions could reasonably ensure Tounisi wouldn’t flee.
Tounisi’s attorney, Molly Armour of Chicago, declined to comment on the indictment in a phone interview today.
Tounisi pressed on with efforts to join Jabhat al-Nusrah even after a close friend was arrested by the FBI and Tounisi was questioned by federal agents, Assistant U.S. Attorney William Ridgway said at the May 3 hearing at which his bail was revoked.
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 by an undercover federal agent. Daoud has pleaded not guilty and is being held pending trial.
The case is U.S. v. Tounisi, 13-cr-00328, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).