A federal judge on Friday reversed another judge's earlier decision to let a teenager accused of providing material support to a terror organization remain on home confinement during his trial.
U.S. District Judge Edmond E. Chang decided Friday that Abdella Tounisi of Aurora should remain in custody during proceedings. That reverses Judge Daniel Martin's Thursday decision to allow Tounisi to remain free on home confinement, under the supervision of his father.
In court on Thursday, prosecutor Bill Ridgeway begged Martin to keep Tounisi locked up. Illinois Governor Pat Quinn appealed the decision to let Tounisi remain on home confinement, and prosecutors Friday argued their case in front of the different judge.
Tounisi has been on the government radar since last summer, when he and a friend, Adel Daoud, allegedly discussed bombing a west suburban restaurant. An FBI affidavit says Tounisi "recommended certain attack techniques, offered ideas about targeting, and researched locations online to analyze their feasibility," but eventually backed out of the planned attack, in part, because he believed a third party with whom Daoud was associating was an undercover law enforcement agent.
After Daoud was arrested in September, Tounisi was visited by FBI agents, who said he admitted assisting Daoud in "target selection." But they said in spite of that visit he continued doing "extensive online research" on violent jihad, centering on Syria and an Al Qaeda-backed terror group there. Unbeknownst to Tounisi, the website he visited was actually an undercover front maintained by the FBI. When he sent emails asking for assistance in joining the Syrian group, officials said, his messages were being read by the federal agents.
"This is someone who has expressed an interest in dying as a martyr," Ridgeway warned Thursday in court, noting that when he was interviewed by the FBI, Tounisi admitted his "interest in engaging in jihad overseas."
Prosecutors revealed they had been listening in to the family’s phone conversations for months, and had heard a Tounisi relative pleading with the boy, "You will not die a martyr…you will die like road kill!"
Defense attorney Molly Armour insisted Tounisi posed no danger.
"He’s charged with attempting to leave the community, not harm it," she said. "The word terrorist is a word that tends to taint everything it touches."
The judge said he felt a need to protect the community but would allow Tounisi to be transferred to home confinement. Still, he delivered an angry lecture to the suspect.
"This is no game Mr. Tounisi," Martin scolded. "You’ve got an entire law enforcement wing concerned that you could do some terrible things."
The judge indicated he felt comfortable putting Tounisi’s father in charge of his confinement, despite the fact that prosecutors had submitted evidence that the family had been overheard saying they were powerless to stop the young man’s jihadi ways.
Tounisi stayed in custody Thursday as his parents scrambled to have a land-line phone installed to transmit data from the home monitoring device.