Government wants long sentence for suburban teen terrorist

An ABC7 I-Team Investigation

ByChuck Goudie and Barb Markoff WLS logo
Monday, October 9, 2017
Gov't wants long sentence for suburban teen terrorist
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Chuck Goudie and the I-Team report on Abdella Tounisi, who targeted teen clubs and concerts.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Weighing in at only 120 pounds and standing just 5 feet 6 inches tall, Abdella Ahmad Tounisi is not a figure to inspire fright. But in 2013, the College of DuPage student had a towering aim: to blow up a Chicago-area nightclub or concert.

Tounisi was an 18-year-old teenager from Aurora when FBI agents arrested him at O'Hare Airport as he was about to board a flight to Turkey. His arrest in April 2013 came after the government took down one of his close friends on terrorism charges, Adel Daoud.

In August 2015, Tounisi pleaded guilty to plotting to join al Qaeda and he will be sentenced in ten days. Prosecutors are asking Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan to put Tounisi behind bars for 15 years and then a "significant period of supervised release."

Tounisi's attorneys are requesting jail time of less than half of that. On October 19, they want Judge Der-Yeghiayan to sentence him to seven years and far less supervised release. Federal attorneys are expected to argue that Tounisi was a significant threat.

"The defendant told FBI agents that during Ramadan he and Daoud searched for concerts and nightclubs, locations which the defendant understood to be targets of a bombing attack," prosecutors stated in newly-filed court records. "The defendant said he recommended as a target a particular nightclub in Naperville."

As the I-Team reported shortly after Tounisi's arrest, the teenager's intended target was believed to have been a now-defunct nightclub called Lit in a shopping center near busy Route 59.

In an apparent effort to mask their plans, Tounisi and Daoud referred to the bomb plot as "charity," authorities said.

Even though he later backed down from an attack in metro Chicago in favor of a combat trip to Syria, authorities pursued him as a local terror threat.

Investigators say that between February 2013 and April 2013 while he was enrolled at the College of DuPage, Tounisi "often skipped class and could be found in the college's computer lab where he was seen viewing, among other sites, the webpage for Turkish Airlines, presumably to plan his travel to Syria."

Tounisi also "spent countless hours" viewing terror videos, websites and articles describing and depicting bombings and suicide attacks by jihadists according to federal agents. They said the videos were linked to a radical and violent terrorist group known as Jabhat al-Nusrah, which is an off-shoot of al Qaeda. Among the videos, prosecutors point to one that purported to show a suicide bombing at a Damascus hospital.

"Although Jabat al-Nusrah may not have conducted an attack against the United States, the organization still poses a threat," Chicago prosecutors said in their filing.

Tounisi, now 23, has spent 4-and-a-half years locked up inside the Metro Correctional Center in Chicago. As his lawyers point out, that is already 20 percent of his life.