An Illinois teenager was arrested late Friday night at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport as he was about to board a flight for Istanbul.
The 18-year-old wannabe terrorist, a resident of Aurora, hoped to cross the border from Turkey into Syria.
Abdella Ahmad Tounisi, a U.S. citizen, planned to join the Al Qaeda-linked Jabhat Al Nusra (Al Nusra Front) terrorist group, the FBI told journalists in a weekend briefing, and help the group fight to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
There was no connection between Tounisi and the Boston Marathon bombing earlier last week, the FBI stressed in its statement announcing the arrest.
He is charged with one count of attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, and could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted, according to the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court on Saturday.
Cory B. Nelson, head of Chicago’s FBI office, said in announcing the arrest that Tounisi had been picked up in a sting operation after searches that included key words such as “martyrdom operations,” “providing material support what does it mean” and “Terrorism Act 2000.”
The evidence was gathered in part through contact made with a bogus website set up by the FBI entitled, “A Call for Jihad in Syria.” On the site was an invitation to “come and join your lion brothers... who are fighting under the true banner of Islam.”
The young wannabe terrorist was very open about his lack of experience, and about his passion, in correspondence with a contact on the site, “Brother Abdullah,” who responded to his emails.
“Concerning my fighting skills, to be honest, I do not have any,” he allegedly wrote in an email quoted by the federal complaint described by the FBI. “I’m very small... physically but I pray to Allah that he makes me successful.”
According to the complaint, Tounisi is a close friend of Adel Daoud, a Chicago-area teen arrested last year in connection with attempting to detonate what he believed to be a bomb outside a bar.
Daoud, who pleaded not guilty, has remained in jail pending trial, a fact noted in the complaint filed over Tounisi, which stated, “Tounisi’s interest in violent jihad continued, notwithstanding Daoud’s arrest.”
Tounisi, whose father Ahmad Tounisi insists is innocent, is being held without bail pending indictment.
“I know my kid is innocent,” Tounisi’s father told the Chicago Tribune, adding that he believed his son was going to a mosque for three days. He said his son didn’t have enough money to buy an airline ticket to Turkey.
“I know a lot of Muslim kids are getting set up,” the elder Tounisi said.