A suburban Chicago, Illinois, teenager, who was arrested on terrorism-related charges and accused of seeking to join an Al Qaeda-affiliated group known as Al-Nusra Front in war-torn Syria, was sentenced in federal court on Friday to 15-years in prison. Al-Nusra Front was accused by the Russian military as being a user of deadly chemical weapons in Syria.
Abdella Ahmad Tounisi, (pictured above) who is now 23-years-old, was arrested in 2013 as he attempted to fly from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport to Turkey, which borders Syria, the FBI said.
He had hoped to join Jabhat al-Nusrah, a group fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime in a bloody civil war. There are no links between Tounisi and the Boston Marathon bombings earlier in the week, the head of the FBI office in Chicago, Cory B. Nelson, said in a statement announcing the arrest.
Tounisi, who is a U.S. citizen, was snared in an Internet sting after contacting a sham website set up by the FBI that purported to hook up would-be fighters with terrorists, the federal complaint says.
The 18-year-old Aurora man was open to talk about his lack of fighting experience, but said he was willing to undergo as much training as his superiors demanded.
“Concerning my fighting skills, to be honest, I do not have any,” he allegedly wrote in one email written this year, according to the DoJ complaint. “I’m very small … physically but I pray to Allah that he makes me successful.”
At the top of the website he often visited were the words, “A Call for Jihad in Syria,” and it invited interested recruits to “come and join your lion brothers … who are fighting under the true banner of Islam.” Elsewhere, the site advised users on how to conceal their Internet surfing especially on what’s now called the “Dark Web,” said Clayton Laurence, a former police interrogator and hostage negotiator.
According to Tounisi’s plea agreement, in early 2013 he made contact with an individual he believed was a ranking member of Al-Nusra Front. He and the man he believed was an online recruiter exchanged a series of emails. In them, Tounisi shared his secret plan to go to Syria after he crossed the border from Turkey. He also expressed his desire to fight for the global jihad cause, according to the plea agreement.
Unfortunately for the wannabe Islamist, Tounisi’s purported recruiter was actually a member of one of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) working with state and local police.
Tounisi made a rush to obtain a legal passport and also purchased an airline ticket for the flight from Chicago to Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city. He arrived at O’Hare on the evening of April 19, 2013, and was arrested after passing through airport security in the international terminal.
Tounisi was a close friend of Adel Daoud, of Hillside, Ill., who was arrested on Sept. 14, 2012, for allegedly attempting to detonate a bomb outside a bar in downtown Chicago. Tounisi recommended certain attack techniques to Daoud but ultimately decided against participating in that domestic attack. Daoud was charged separately and is awaiting trial in federal court in Chicago.
Al-Nusra Front, or Jabhat al-Nusra, sometimes called Al-Qaeda in the Levant(AQIL), is a Sunni Islamist militia fighting against the Assad government in Syria.
Al-Nusra Front Used Chemical Weapons on Civilians in Syria
According to a Russia Defense Ministry press release on Friday, the U.S. State Department has admitted that the infamous Al Nusra Front, which controls Syria’s Idlib Governorate through the umbrella terrorist group HTS and is still thought to be a front for al-Qaeda, “not only has, but uses chemical weapons against civilians.”
“The Hayat Tahrir al-Sham terrorist group (HTS), linked to Jabhat al-Nusra, which uses ‘small and heavy arms, improvised explosive devices, and chemical weapons’, operates in that province [Idlib]. This is the first official recognition by the [US] State Department not simply of the presence, but, I emphasize, the use of chemical weapons by Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists in that part of Syria to commit terrorist attacks, about which we repeatedly warned,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Konashenkov said.