Updated: May 22, 2013 7:21AM
CHICAGO — An 18-year-old Aurora man was arrested Friday night at O’Hare International Airport as he allegedly attempted to travel to Syria in order to join a jihadist militant group operating inside that country, federal authorities announced Saturday.
Abdella Ahmad Tounisi, 18, a U.S. citizen, was taken into custody without incident late Friday at O’Hare International Airport by members of the Chicago FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force as he attempted to board a flight destined for Istanbul, Turkey, according to a release from the Chicago FBI office. The arrest announcement was made on Saturday by the Chicago FBI office and the U.S. Attorney’s office in Chicago.
Tounisi was charged in a criminal complaint filed Saturday in U.S. District Court with one count of attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, a felony offense. He appeared on Saturday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Daniel G. Martin and was ordered held until his next court appearance, which is scheduled for Tuesday.
Cory B. Nelson, special agent-in-charge of the FBI’s Chicago office, said the investigation that culminated in Tounisi’s arrest began in 2012 and that there is no connection between this case and the events that occurred over the last several days in Boston.
The federal criminal complaint states that Tounisi is a close friend of Adel Daoud, who was arrested in September 2012 for attempting to detonate a bomb outside a Chicago bar.
Tounisi and Daoud appeared to share an interest in violent jihad, the complaint states.
While Tounisi allegedly discussed attack techniques and targets prior to Daoud’s arrest, Tounisi did not participate in Daoud’s attempted attack, the release said.
According to the complaint, from January to April 2013, Tounisi conducted online research related to overseas travel and violent jihad, focusing specifically on Syria and the Jabhat al-Nusrah terrorist group. Jabhat al-Nusrah is listed by the U.S. Department of State as an alias for al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI). The complaint alleges that Tounisi searched online for information about travel from Chicago to Syria, obtained a new passport, and, beginning in late March 2013, made online contact with an individual Tounisi believed to be a recruiter for Jabhat al-Nusrah. That individual was in fact an FBI employee acting in an online undercover capacity. The complaint further alleges that Tounisi and the undercover employee exchanged a series of emails in which Tounisi shared his plan to get to Syria by way of Turkey, as well as his willingness to die for the cause. During the exchanges, Tounisi also sought advice from the undercover employee on travel from Istanbul to the Turkish city of Gaziantep, which lies near the border of Turkey and Syria.
The complaint states that on April 10, Tounisi purchased an airline ticket for a flight from Chicago to Istanbul and on April 18, the undercover employee provided Tounisi with a bus ticket for travel from Istanbul to Gaziantep. Tounisi arrived at O’Hare’s international terminal Friday evening, and after passing through airport security, he was arrested.
If convicted of the charge filed against him, Tounisi faces a maximum penalty of 15 years in federal prison.