An alleged attempt by an Aurora, Ill. man to travel to Syria in order to join a jihadist militant group operating inside Syria led to his arrest Friday evening. The arrest was announced today by Cory B. Nelson, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Gary S. Shapiro, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.
ABDELLA AHMAD TOUNISI, 18, a U.S. citizen, was taken into custody without late yesterday incident 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. He was charged in a criminal complaint filed today in U.S. District Court with one count of attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, a felony offense. Tounisi appeared earlier today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Daniel G. Martin and was ordered held until his next court appearance, which is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on April 23, 2013.
In making today’s announcement, Mr. Nelson stated that 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 complaint states that Tounisi is a close friend of Adel Daoud, an individual arrested in September 2012 for attempting to detonate a bomb outside a Chicago bar, and that Tounisi and Daoud appeared to share an interest in violent jihad. While Tounisi allegedly discussed attack techniques and targets prior to Daoud’s arrest, Tounisi did not participate in Daoud’s attempted attack.
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), a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization. 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 International Airport’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.
The JTTF is comprised of Special Agents of the FBI, officers of the Chicago Police Department, and representatives from an additional 20 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. The Justice Department’s National Security Division assisted in the investigation.
Mr. Nelson expressed his gratitude to U.S. Customs and Border Protection for the significant support provided by its officers during the arrest of Tounisi.
The public is reminded that a complaint is not evidence of guilt and that all defendants in a criminal case are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.