An 18-year-old man was arrested Friday just before he traveled to the Middle East to join an al-Qaida terrorist group, according to federal officials.
Abdella Ahmad Tounisi was held without bail Saturday after he was charged with one count of attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, a felony offense that could result in up to 15 years in prison.
The arrest was not connected to the Boston Marathon bombing, officials said.
Investigations of Tounisi began as he was reportedly connected to Adel Daoud, a 19-year-old man charged with the attempted bombing of a downtown Chicago bar last year, officials said.
Though Tounisi admitted he discussed attack techniques and targets prior to the attempted bombing, he was not involved in the act itself, according to federal officials.
Tounisi allegedly recommended certain attack techniques, offered ideas about targeting and researched the locations online to analyze their feasibility, but pulled out of the attack in mid-August after suspecting law enforcement was involved, according to a federal complaint.
Tounisi later made contact with a person he believed was a recruiter for Jabhat al-Nusrah, a jihadist militant group operating in Syria and claims to be connected to nearly 600 terrorist attacks in Syria. The group is reportedly connected to al-Qaida.
But the recruiter was actually an undercover federal employee, officials said.
Tounisi reportedly expressed a “willingness to die” for the cause and planned to travel to Syria through Turkey, the complaint said.
On April 10, he bought an airplane ticket to Istanbul, Turkey with intentions of later traveling into Syria and was arrested at O’Hare Airport Friday evening.
Tounisi’s father, Ahmad Tounisi said federal investigators seized a computer, a Nook and two Xbox systems from their home Friday night.
“I feel that my son is innocent,” he said. “His perfect world is a world that doesn’t have any rape, that doesn’t have any oppressors, that doesn’t have any injustice.”
He said his son was studying radiology at the College of DuPage and claimed to know nothing of his plans to join the terrorist group.
Ahmad Tounisi said he thought his son was going to a mosque for three days and that he didn’t have money to buy a plane ticket to Turkey.
Tounisi is expected to appear in court Tuesday.