A suburban Chicago teenager has been arrested on terrorism-related charges and accused of seeking to join an Al Qaeda-affiliated group in war-torn Syria, the FBI announced Saturday.
Abdella Ahmad Tounisi, 18, was arrested Friday night as he attempted to board a flight from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport to Turkey, which borders Syria, the FBI said.
The head of the FBI office in Chicago, Cory B. Nelson, said in a statement announcing the arrest that there are no links between Tounisi’s case and the bombings at the Boston Marathon earlier in the week.
Tounisi, a U.S. citizen from Aurora, 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.
Tounisi carried out research online about Jabhat al-Nusrah, or Nursa Front, which is a well-organized rebel faction fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime in a bloody civil war, the complaint says. The U.S. government has designated the group a foreign terrorist organization, describing it as an alias for the group Al Qaeda in Iraq.
Neither the complaint nor the FBI statement includes the name of an attorney for Tounisi. And there was no public telephone listing for a Tounisi in Aurora, which is just west of Chicago.
According to the FBI, Tounisi made contact over email last month with an FBI employee posing as a Nursa Front recruiter and expressed “his willingness to die for the cause.”
The complaint also says Tounisi is a friend of Adel Daoud, another Chicago-area man who was arrested last year on charges he sought to detonate a device he thought was a bomb outside a downtown bar.
Daoud has pleaded not guilty and is in jail awaiting trial.
The complaint does not accuse Tounisi of playing a role in the alleged attack planned by Daoud, though it does say the two friends discussed “techniques and targets” before Daoud’s arrest.
A federal jury found a man guilty of federal terrorism charges on Thursday, rejecting the defense team’s argument that Mohamed Mohamud was entrapped or induced by a yearlong FBI sting that began to target him when he was a teenager.
Mohamud was accused of leading a plot to detonate a bomb at Portland’s 2010 Christmas tree-lighting ceremony. But the device he thought was a bomb was a fake, supplied by undercover FBI agents posing as members of Al Qaeda.
Mohamud sat still, giving no visible reaction as Thursday’s verdict was read. His attorney, Steve Sady, later said an appeal was being planned after the scheduled May 14 sentencing.
“We are disappointed with the verdict,” Sady said. “We obviously though he was entrapped.”
Mohamud faces up to life in prison at his sentencing.
Prosecutors had argued that Mohamud was predisposed to terrorism as early as 15 years old.
Mohamud, now 21, traded emails with an Al Qaeda lieutenant later killed in a drone strike. He also told undercover agents he would pose as a college student while preparing for violent jihad.
“We are hopeful that this will bring closure and healing to all of us here in Portland,” said Amanda Marshall, U.S. Attorney for Oregon. “This case has been a difficult case for the city of Portland. It’s been a particularly difficult case for Mohamed Mohamud’s community, for his family, for the Somali community.”
Mohamud was never called to testify. Instead, the jurors saw thousands of exhibits and heard hours of testimony from friends, parents, undercover FBI agents and experts in counterterrorism, teenage brain development and the psychology of the Muslim world.
“Mr. Mohamud made a series of choices over a period of several years — choices that were leading him down a path that would have ended in violence,” said Greg Fowler, who leads the FBI office in Portland. “His actions showed little regard for the rights and responsibilities that come with being an American or respect for the lives that he was prepared to take.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ethan Knight told the jury earlier this week that the decision would be easy. Mohamud pressed a keypad button on a black Nokia cellphone and intended to kill people. Whatever else they might think about the methods of undercover agents or the government’s decision to investigate a teenager, the underlying decision was Mohamud’s and the motivation was hatred of the West.
“It’s too early to tell about sentencing specifically,” Knight said on Thursday. “We’ll have to wait and see what further investigation, the presentencing report, will say about the defendant.”
Sady had argued that Mohamud wasn’t radicalized by online recruiters or friends with jihadist leanings, but rather by a Justice Department hungry for convictions that ignored every caution sign along the way. Undercover agents manipulated Mohamud’s faith and plied him with praise and the promise of a life leading other jihadis, Sady said.
Mohamud could be ordered to serve life in prison.
Four Southern California men have been charged with plotting to kill Americans and destroy U.S. targets overseas by joining Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, federal officials said Monday.
The defendants, including a man who served in the U.S. Air Force, were arrested for plotting to bomb military bases and government facilities, and for planning to engage in “violent jihad,” FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said in a release.
A federal complaint unsealed Monday says 34-year-old Sohiel Omar Kabir of Pomona introduced two of the other men to the radical Islamist doctrine of Anwar al-Awlaki, a deceased Al Qaeda leader. Kabir served in the Air Force from 2000 to 2001.
The other two — 23-year-old Ralph Deleon of Ontario and 21-year-old Miguel Alejandro Santana Vidriales of Upland — converted to Islam in 2010 and began engaging with Kabir and others online in discussions about jihad, including posting radical content to Facebook and expressing extremist views in comments.
They later recruited 21-year-old Arifeen David Gojali of Riverside.
Authorities allege that in Skype calls from Afghanistan, Kabir told the trio he would arrange their meetings with terrorists. Kabir added the would-be jihadists could sleep in mosques or the homes of fellow jihadists once they arrived in Afghanistan.
The trio made plans to depart in mid-November to carry out plots in Afghanistan, primarily, and Yemen, after they sold off belongings to scrape together enough cash to buy plane tickets and made passport arrangements.
In one online conversation, Santana told an FBI undercover agent that he wanted to commit jihad and expressed interest in a jihadist training camp in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.
The complaint also alleges the men went to a shooting range several times, including a Sept. 10 trip in which Deleon told a confidential FBI source that he wanted to be on the front lines overseas and use C-4, an explosive, in an attack. Santana agreed.
“I wanna do C-4s if I could put one of these trucks right here with my, with that. Just drive into, like, the baddest military base,” Santana said, according to the complaint.
Santana added he wanted to use a large quantity of the explosive. “If I’m gonna do that, I’m gonna take out a whole base. Might as well make it, like, big, ya know,” he said.
According to the complaint, at the shooting range that day both Santana and Deleon told a confidential FBI source they were excited about the rewards from becoming a shaheed, which is Arabic for martyr.
Ten days later, during another trip to the shooting range to fire assault-style rifles, Santana told the source he had been around gangs and had no problem taking a life.
On Sept. 30, Gojali was recruited to the plot after he was asked if he had it in him to kill in jihad. Gojali answered, “Yeah, of course.”
“I watch videos on the Internet, and I see what they are doing to our brothers and sisters. … It makes me cry, and it gets like I’m, like, so angered with them,” Gojali said, according to the complaint.
The men wiped their Facebook pages of radical Islamist content and photos of themselves in traditional Muslim attire, and devised a cover story that they were going to Afghanistan to attend Kabir’s wedding.
Federal authorities said the trio and the FBI’s confidential source bought airplane tickets last week for a Sunday flight from Mexico City to Istanbul, with plans to later continue to Kabul.
After Kabir began talking to him about Islam, Santana said he “accepted Islam without knowing anything about it besides it being the truth” and that he believed the religion would help him “fit in and actually be able to fight for something that’s right,” according to the complaint.
If convicted, each defendant faces a maximum of 15 years in federal prison.
Kabir is being detained in Afghanistan. The other three appeared for a detention hearing Monday in Riverside, and all but Gojali were remanded to federal custody with no bail. His detention hearing was delayed.
After-hours calls left for the men’s attorneys were not immediately returned Monday.
A preliminary hearing is slated for Dec. 3, and an arraignment is set for Dec. 5.
Kabir is a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Afghanistan. Santana was born in Mexico, while Deleon was born in the Philippines. Both are lawful, permanent U.S. residents. Gojali is a U.S. citizen.
A New York federal judge who found Iran, the Taliban and Al Qaeda culpable in the 2001 terrorist attacks has approved a $6 billion default judgment against them.
The order signed Wednesday by Judge George Daniels is largely symbolic, but it provides some hope the relatives of Sept. 11 victims can someday recover damages. A federal magistrate judge recommended the damages over the summer.
Daniels last year signed a default judgment pertaining to a lawsuit brought by relatives of 47 victims. He found Al Qaeda, the Taliban and Iran liable and asked the magistrate to determine damages. He said support the defendants provided to Al Qaeda enabled the terror attacks.
Iran’s president has repeatedly denied any Iranian connection to the Sept. 11 attacks or to Al Qaeda.
The would-be bomber in the airline plot was actually working as a U.S. intelligence informant, but the CIA had Al Qaeda fooled from the start.
Fox News has learned that a government source familiar with intelligence confirmed that an international sting operation infiltrated the Al Qaeda cell. The informant was apparently one and the same as the bomber got the device out.
Last month, U.S. intelligence learned that Al Qaeda’s Yemen branch hoped to launch a spectacular attack using a new, nearly undetectable bomb aboard an airliner bound for America, officials say.
But the man the terrorists were counting on to carry out the attack was actually working for the CIA and Saudi intelligence, U.S. and Yemeni officials told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
The dramatic sting operation thwarted the attack before it had a chance to succeed.
It was the latest misfire for Al Qaeda, which has repeatedly come close to detonating a bomb aboard an airliner. For the United State, it was a victory that delivered the bomb intact to U.S. intelligence.
The officials spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the operation. The cooperation of the would-be bomber was first reported Tuesday evening by The Los Angeles Times.
The FBI is still analyzing the explosive, which was intended to be concealed in a passenger’s underwear. Officials said it was an upgrade over the bomb that failed to detonate on board an airplane over Detroit on Christmas 2009. This new bomb contained no metal and used a chemical — lead azide — that was to be a detonator in a nearly successful 2010 plot to attack cargo planes, officials said.
Security procedures at U.S. airports remained unchanged Tuesday, a reflection of both the U.S. confidence in its security systems and recognition that the government can’t realistically expect travelers to endure much more. Increased costs and delays to airlines and shipping companies could have a global economic impact, too.
“I would not expect any real changes for the traveling public,” said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers. “There is a concern that overseas security doesn’t match ours. That’s an ongoing challenge.”
While airline checks in the United States mean passing through an onerous, sometimes embarrassing series of pat-downs and body scans, procedures overseas can be a mixed bag. The U.S. cannot force other countries to permanently adopt the expensive and intrusive measures that have become common in American airports over the past decade.
The Transportation Security Administration sent advice to some international air carriers and airports about security measures that might stave off an attack from a hidden explosive. It’s the same advice the U.S. has issued before, but there was a thought that it might get new attention in light of the foiled plot.
The U.S. has worked for years to try to improve security for U.S.-bound flights originating at international airports. And many countries agree that security needs to be better. But while plots such as the Christmas attack have spurred changes, some security gaps that have been closed in the U.S. remain open overseas.
Officials believe that body scanners, for instance, probably would have detected this latest attempt by Al Qaeda to bring down a jetliner. Such scanners allow screeners to see objects hidden beneath a passenger’s clothes.
But while scanners are in place in airports nationwide, their use is scattershot overseas. Even in security-conscious Europe, the European Union has not required full-body imaging machines for all airports, though a number of major airports in Paris, London, Frankfurt and elsewhere use them.
All passengers on U.S.-bound flights are checked against terrorist watch lists and law enforcement databases.
In some countries, U.S. officials are stationed in airports to offer advice on security matters. In some cases, though, the U.S. is limited to hoping that other countries follow the security advice from the Transportation Security Administration.
“Even if our technology is good enough to spot it, the technology is still in human hands and we are inherently fallible,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, a member of the House Intelligence Committee. “And overseas, we have varying degrees of security depending on where the flight originates.”
Al Qaeda has repeatedly tried to take advantage of those overseas gaps. The Christmas 2009 bombing originated in Amsterdam, where the bomber did not receive a full-body scan. And in 2010, terrorists smuggled bombs onto cargo jets, which receive less scrutiny than passenger planes.
In both those instances, the bombs were made by Al Qaeda’s master bomb maker in Yemen, Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri. Officials believe this latest bomb was the handiwork of al-Asiri or one of his students.
In the meantime, Americans traveled Tuesday with little apparent concern.
“We were nervous — for a minute,” said Nan Gartner, a retiree on her way to Italy from New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport. “But then we thought, we aren’t going anywhere near Yemen, so we’re OK.”
Fox News’ Catherine Herridge and the Associated Press contributed to this report.