Judge reverses decision to free terrorism suspect
CHICAGO — A federal judge on Friday quashed another judge's surprise order to release an Illinois teen pending trial on charges he sought to join al-Qaida-linked militants in Syria.
Abdella Ahmad Tounisi, 18, of Aurora posed a threat not just to Illinois and the United States but to “the entire world community,” said U.S. District Judge Edmond Chang.
Standing in court in orange jail garb with his legs shackled, Tounisi showed no emotion at the ruling, which ended his chance at freedom as he awaits trial. His mother, Seham Tounisi, was distraught, crying as she left the Chicago courtroom and leaning against her husband, Ahmad Tounisi. A woman with them said, “This is unfair!”
On Thursday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Daniel Martin ruled Tounisi could be released on home confinement. He stayed his own order to give the government 24 hours to appeal.
The American-born Tounisi was snared in an Internet sting when he contacted a website set up by the FBI purporting to connect would-be fighters with terrorists, according to filings. He was arrested at O'Hare last month as he allegedly prepared for a trip to Syria to join Jabhat al-Nusrah.
Judge Chang cited emails in which Tounisi allegedly stated his intention to join the Qaida-affiliated group fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime. That suggests “the defendant was knowingly attempting to join this group — a very dangerous group,” Chang said.
To drive home Tounisi's apparent determination and resourcefulness, prosecutor William Ridgway said the cash-strapped teen even managed to divert financial aid to attend the College of DuPage in suburban Chicago to pay for his plane ticket.
Even after worried family members had told Tounisi he “will be killing (his) mother” by persisting in plans to travel abroad, he pushed ahead, the judge said.
The judge also cited Tounisi's friend, Adel Daoud, who was arrested last year for allegedly trying to detonate a device he thought was a bomb outside a Chicago bar. Daoud has pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors say Tounisi helped brainstorm potential targets with Daoud, though Tounisi was never charged in that case.
Chang said an FBI interview with Tounisi about Daoud last year should have so frightened Tounisi as to make other alleged plots unthinkable to him.
“That should have been a life-altering event,” he said. “But it did not dissuade him.”
Defense attorney Molly Armour declined any comment after the hearing, including about the possibility of appealing Friday's ruling. She told Chang that prosecutors were obliged to demonstrate her client constituted more than a “theoretical” threat. They had failed to do that, she said.
Tounisi is charged with one count of attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. If convicted, he faces a maximum 15-year prison term.
The fake website Tounisi allegedly visited included flowery invitations to, “Join your lion brothers ... fighting under the true banner of Islam.” He engaged in email communications via the site with an FBI agent posing as a terrorist recruiter, court filings allege.
Critics have questioned whether such sites woo impressionable youth into contemplating crimes that otherwise wouldn't cross their minds. Others say the websites help catch prospective terrorists in the virtual world before they carry out real-world harm.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Cruz switches targets, takes exception with IRS practices
- Defense memo reveals plan to protect transgender troops
- New TSA administrator vows training to address security gaps
- Mich. high court strikes down mandatory fees for state employees in unions
- Planned Parenthood requests expert study
- Clinton to testify before House committee on Benghazi in October
- Feds accuse Philadelphia congressman Fattah of corruption
- Obama hopes he has enough votes to sustain a potential veto of Iran nuke deal; pro-Israel groups aim to stop it
- Ohio cop indicted on murder charge in traffic-stop shooting
- Undocumented alien released, suspected in crime spree
- University of New Hampshire language guide panned