Abdella Ahmad Tounisi

Abdella Ahmad Tounisi is an American who was arrested for attempting to travel to Syria to fight alongside al-Nusra Front.Jason Meisner, “Aurora man pleads guilty to plotting to join al-Qaida in Syria in 2013,” Chicago Tribune, August 11, 2015, http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-aurora-man-guilty-terrorism-met-20150811-story.html. Tounisi had unknowingly confessed his plan to an undercover FBI agent posing as a terrorist recruiter.“Aurora Man Pleads Guilty to Terrorism Charge,” CBS Chicago, August 11, 2015, http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2015/08/11/aurora-man-pleads-guilty-to-terrorism-charge/.

Tounisi had been bullied as a child and learned to seek asylum in his religion. He educated himself on the Syrian civil war and became outraged by the actions taken by the Syrian government. Mick Dumke, “Accused terrorists from Chicago were lured by extremists-and the U.S. government,” Chicago Reader, July 9, 2015, http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/terrorism-sami-hassoun-adel-daoud-wrigley-field-abdella-ahmad-tounisi/Content?oid=18243769. Tounisi confided in his friend, Adel Daoud, whom he met at his mosque, and told him he wanted to become a foreign fighter.Mick Dumke, “Accused terrorists from Chicago were lured by extremists-and the U.S. government,” Chicago Reader, July 9, 2015, http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/terrorism-sami-hassoun-adel-daoud-wrigley-field-abdella-ahmad-tounisi/Content?oid=18243769. The pair shared an interest in violent jihad, a topic about which they often talked and exchanged emails, phone calls, text messages, and videos.“United States v. ABDELLA AHMAD TOUNISI,” U.S. District Court Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division, April 20, 2013, http://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/usao-ndil/legacy/2015/06/11/pr0422_01a.pdf.

Daoud was arrested on September 14, 2012, after attempting to detonate a bomb outside a bar in downtown Chicago.“United States v. ABDELLA AHMAD TOUNISI,” U.S. District Court Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division, April 20, 2013, http://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/usao-ndil/legacy/2015/06/11/pr0422_01a.pdf. In July of that year, he met a purported operational terrorist who was in fact an FBI undercover agent.“United States v. ABDELLA AHMAD TOUNISI,” U.S. District Court Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division, April 20, 2013, http://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/usao-ndil/legacy/2015/06/11/pr0422_01a.pdf. Daoud disclosed to him his desire to conduct an attack on the United States. He believed the country was unjustly killing Muslims in the Middle East conflict and sought retribution.Mick Dumke, “Accused terrorists from Chicago were lured by extremists-and the U.S. government,” Chicago Reader, July 9, 2015, http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/terrorism-sami-hassoun-adel-daoud-wrigley-field-abdella-ahmad-tounisi/Content?oid=18243769. The undercover agent met with Daoud on several occasions to research and select possible targets to attack, as well as conduct surveillance of those areas.“United States v. ABDELLA AHMAD TOUNISI,” U.S. District Court Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division, April 20, 2013, http://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/usao-ndil/legacy/2015/06/11/pr0422_01a.pdf.

In August 2012, Daoud shared his terror attack plan with Tounisi and asked for assistance. Tounisi provided input on attack techniques and researched several of Daoud’s targeted locations to determine which would be the most feasible.“United States v. ABDELLA AHMAD TOUNISI,” U.S. District Court Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division, April 20, 2013, http://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/usao-ndil/legacy/2015/06/11/pr0422_01a.pdf. However, after several weeks, Tounisi decided against participating in the attack. He was skeptical about the supposed terrorist Daoud was working with and believed the man was “a spy” who worked in law enforcement.“United States v. ABDELLA AHMAD TOUNISI,” U.S. District Court Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division, April 20, 2013, http://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/usao-ndil/legacy/2015/06/11/pr0422_01a.pdf;
Jason Meisner, “Aurora man pleads guilty to plotting to join al-Qaida in Syria in 2013,” Chicago Tribune, August 11, 2015, http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-aurora-man-guilty-terrorism-met-20150811-story.html.

Daoud continued his plot with the undercover agent. He was provided with a false bomb to “detonate” inside a car parked next to a bar in downtown Chicago.“United States v. ABDELLA AHMAD TOUNISI,” U.S. District Court Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division, April 20, 2013, http://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/usao-ndil/legacy/2015/06/11/pr0422_01a.pdf. Daoud was arrested after attempting to detonate the fake device.Mick Dumke, “Accused terrorists from Chicago were lured by extremists-and the U.S. government,” Chicago Reader, July 9, 2015, http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/terrorism-sami-hassoun-adel-daoud-wrigley-field-abdella-ahmad-tounisi/Content?oid=18243769. FBI agents interviewed Tounisi and he admitted to assisting Daoud the target selection. However, he was not charged for his actions.“United States v. ABDELLA AHMAD TOUNISI,” U.S. District Court Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division, April 20, 2013, http://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/usao-ndil/legacy/2015/06/11/pr0422_01a.pdf;
Jason Meisner, “Aurora man pleads guilty to plotting to join al-Qaida in Syria in 2013,” Chicago Tribune, August 11, 2015, http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-aurora-man-guilty-terrorism-met-20150811-story.html.

Although his friend had been arrested, Tounisi continued to show an interest in violent jihad.Jason Meisner, “Aurora man pleads guilty to plotting to join al-Qaida in Syria in 2013,” Chicago Tribune, August 11, 2015, http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-aurora-man-guilty-terrorism-met-20150811-story.html. From January 2013 to April 2013, Tounisi performed extensive online searches related to traveling overseas and the terrorist group the Nusra Front. He also applied for an expedited passport, which he received.“United States v. ABDELLA AHMAD TOUNISI,” U.S. District Court Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division, April 20, 2013, http://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/usao-ndil/legacy/2015/06/11/pr0422_01a.pdf.

On March 28, 2013, Tounisi went to a website that claimed to recruit for al-Nusra Front.“United States v. ABDELLA AHMAD TOUNISI,” U.S. District Court Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division, April 20, 2013, http://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/usao-ndil/legacy/2015/06/11/pr0422_01a.pdf. He reached out to an email address on the site that connected him with an individual whom he believed to be a recruiter for al-Nusra Front. Unaware that this particular website was circulated by the FBI to catch individuals attempting to become foreign fighters, Tounisi followed instructions of an undercover agent, posing as a recruiter for the al-Qaeda affiliated group.“United States v. ABDELLA AHMAD TOUNISI,” U.S. District Court Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division, April 20, 2013, http://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/usao-ndil/legacy/2015/06/11/pr0422_01a.pdf.

Tounisi told the undercover agent how he planned to get to Syria by traveling to Istanbul, Turkey, and later to Gaziantep, a Turkish city bordering Syria.“United States v. ABDELLA AHMAD TOUNISI,” U.S. District Court Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division, April 20, 2013, http://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/usao-ndil/legacy/2015/06/11/pr0422_01a.pdf. He also expressed his willingness to fight and die for the cause.Jason Meisner, “Aurora man pleads guilty to plotting to join al-Qaida in Syria in 2013,” Chicago Tribune, August 11, 2015, http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-aurora-man-guilty-terrorism-met-20150811-story.html.

By April 10, 2013, Tounisi had purchased an airline ticket to fly from Chicago to Turkey and the undercover agent had sent him a bus ticket to get from Istanbul to Gaziantep, where Tounisi was to supposedly meet an al-Nusra Front guide to take him across the border.“United States v. ABDELLA AHMAD TOUNISI,” U.S. District Court Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division, April 20, 2013, http://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/usao-ndil/legacy/2015/06/11/pr0422_01a.pdf.

On April 19, he traveled to O’Hare International Airport.“United States v. ABDELLA AHMAD TOUNISI,” U.S. District Court Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division, April 20, 2013, http://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/usao-ndil/legacy/2015/06/11/pr0422_01a.pdf. After proceeding through airport security, he was arrested by FBI agents as he was waiting to board his flight.Chuck Goudie, “Aurora teen, Abdella Ahmad Tounisi, talking plea deal with federal prosecutors,” ABC 7 Chicago, January 8, 2015, http://abc7chicago.com/news/aurora-teen-abdella-tounisi-talking-plea-deal-with-feds/466816/;
“United States v. ABDELLA AHMAD TOUNISI,” U.S. District Court Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division, April 20, 2013, http://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/usao-ndil/legacy/2015/06/11/pr0422_01a.pdf.
Tounisi was charged and later pleaded guilty for attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.“Aurora Man Pleads Guilty to Terrorism Charge,” CBS Chicago, August 11, 2015, http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2015/08/11/aurora-man-pleads-guilty-to-terrorism-charge/. Prosecutors argued that Tounisi was a “significant threat” and requested he be imprisoned for fifteen years.Chuck Goudie and Barb Markoff, “Government Wants Long Sentence for Suburban Teen Terrorist,” ABC7 Chicago, October 9, 2017, https://abc7chicago.com/abdella-ahmad-tounisi-aurora-terrorist-teen-sentence/2513354/. On October 9, 2017, federal district judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan concurred with prosecutors’ recommendations and sentenced him to 15 years in federal prison. Judge Der-Yeghiayan stated that Tounisi “chose to become a villain” by trading “the opportunity to attend college for a terrorist training camp.” The judge further stated that the prison sentence would be even longer if the statutory maximum did not exist.Chuck Goudie and Ross Weidner, “Aspiring Chicago Terrorist Called ‘Villain’ By Judge; Gets 15 Year Sentence,” ABC7 Chicago, October 19, 2017, https://abc7chicago.com/abdella-ahmad-tounisi-syria-terrorist-chicago/2551727/.

Tounisi is currently incarcerated at Federal Correctional Institute Terra Haute, with a tentative release date of January 29, 2026.“Abdella Ahmad Tounisi,” Find an Inmate – Federal Bureau of Prisons, accessed January 11, 2021, https://www.bop.gov/inmateloc/.

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