FBI headquarters in Washington DC (Creative Commons-licensed photo by cliff1066™

An 18-year-old Muslim from Aurora, Illinois, was arrested at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago on April 19, for allegedly planning to travel to join an al Qaeda group fighting in Syria. The FBI claims he was about to board a plane to Istanbul, Turkey, and from there would join Jabhat al-Nusrah, which has pledged allegiance to al Qaeda,

Abdella Ahmad Tounisi, who is a US citizen, was, according to the Chicago Tribune, “charged with attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, a felony offense that could bring 15 years in federal prison.”

There are two aspects of Tounisi’s case that suggest this was another case of the FBI manufacturing terrorism: (1) an undercover agent recruited him to join Jabhat al-Nusrah and (2) Tounisi is connected to 19-year-old Adel Daoud, another possible victim of FBI entrapment arrested after a sting operation in Chicago in September of last year.

The Tribune reports that the FBI alleges Tounisi “researched” travel to Syria and “terrorist organizations” and also “applied for and obtained a new passport.” On March 28, he “made contact with a person he believed to be a recruiter for Jabhat al-Nusrah but who was really an undercover FBI agent.” Emails were exchanged and then Tounisi wrote “that he planned to get to Syria through Turkey.”

The complaint alleges he wrote to “an undercover federal agent who was posing as a recruiter for the terrorist group, “Concerning my fighting skills, to be honest I do not have any…I’m very small (5 feet 6 inches, 120 pounds) physically but I pray to Allah that he makes me successful.”

Tounisi bought an airplane ticket to Istanbul on April 10. An undercover agent gave him instructions “about how to meet up with ‘brothers’ from Jabhat al-Nusrah,” who would take him to “a training camp in Syria.”

When he was going through security at O’Hare, it seems like he was put through a secondary screening by TSA, who passed him on to FBI agents. The complaint alleges he told “officials that he was traveling to Turkey to sight-see and that he did not plan to travel to any country but Turkey.” Subsequently, he was arrested because the FBI had been spying on his every move.

The FBI had previously tried to ensnare and ultimately arrest him in a previous entrapment scheme. He was apparently a “close friend” of Daoud, who is facing a trial on federal criminal charges of “trying to explode a bomb outside a restaurant bar in Chicago’s Loop.”

The complaint states, “Tounisi and Daoud appeared to share an interest in violent jihad, a topic about which the two exchanged a number of emails, phone calls, and text messages.”

Daoud ultimately met up with an undercover agent on September 14 and Daoud allegedly parked a Jeep Cherokee in front of a bar, walked a block away and tried to detonate a bomb that the FBI had supplied to him, which was fake.

Ahead of this moment, Tounisi was apparently recommending “certain attack techniques” and sharing ideas on “targeting.” He also helped “research” locations online to “analyze their feasibility.” But, the complaint indicates Tounisi backed out of the plot setup by the FBI because he “suspected that the person Daoud was working with was an undercover law enforcement officer.”

“Daoud told the undercover officer that Tounisi wanted to go overseas and join a terrorist group,” the FBI’s complaint alleges. Tounisi was apparently interviewed by FBI agents hours after Daoud was arrested. He “admitted to assisting Daoud in target selection and acknowledged that he had contemplated traveling to Yemen to carry out jihad.”

Tounisi was not arrested by the FBI for his involvement. Instead, it appears the FBI hatched a second plot to ensure that they got him, one that perhaps appealed to his idealism, faith or political consciousness. (He apparently shared with agents his “willingness to die for the cause.”)

 ABC7 Chicago reported, “What raised the FBI’s red flag was Tounisi’s close friendship with Adel Daoud.” But, he was not arrested immediately after the “foiled plot” in September because he had been allegedly involved. So, the “red flag” seems to be something far more sinister; perhaps, continued targeting because he ended his participation in the “foiled plot” to target a Chicago bar.
Ahmad Tounisi, his father, told the Tribune, “I know a lot of Muslim kids are getting set up.” He does not believe his son committed any crimes:
Tounisi described his son as a “good boy” who has been studying to become a radiologist at the College of Dupage and who doesn’t like to see others oppressed. Tounisi said his son did talk of going to Syria to fight against injustices to the people, but his father said he would never join a terrorist group.

“I never thought he’d go through with it,” he said, about the plans to go to Syria.

“If I had to tell him anything I would tell him justice is coming,” Tounisi said, adding he believed his son’s innocence would be proven.

Trevor Aaronsen, author of The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism, explores how the FBI creates and facilitates phony terrorist plots that it can then point to as evidence that the War on Terrorism is being won.

In 2011, he wrote an article for Mother Jones that examined “sting targets” the FBI is going after. One of them was “The Trainee,” which Tounisi happens to be in this case. Aarons describes this sting operation as involving an FBI agent or informant, who “offers to train a target as a jihadist, most often via weapons instruction and bodybuilding.”

Aaronsen details a prior case:

 Marwan el-Hindi was a Jordanian-born naturalized citizen with a string of fraudulent businesses. He met Darren Griffin, a former US Army Special Forces member and FBI informant, at his mosque and asked him about weapons training. From then on, Griffin stayed close to el-Hindi, taking online terrorist training classes with him, working out at a gym, and doing target practice. Griffin, who is referred to in bureau documents as “the Trainer,” spent more than three years cultivating his target before the FBI arrested el-Hindi in February 2006.

The FBI took much less time with Tounisi. All they had to do was convince him to travel to join a group that is fighting militarily for a cause he would support and could be linked to al Qaeda.

The CIA is secretly arming the rebels fighting in Syria; in fact, weapons supplied are ending up in the hands of members of jihadist groups like Jabhat al-Nusrah. This is active assistance of al Qaeda-linked groups or “material support for terrorism,” as the US government would call it.

If he had purchased a ticket to go join the Free Syrian Army, would they have arrested him? Notice the FBI did not try and entice him to join this rebel group, which the US is sending millions of dollars of aid in the Syrian civil war.

Both Daoud and Tounisi appear to have been found chatting about jihad on the Internet and then they were targeted for expressing radical or violent views, which may or may not have indicated true intent to commit crimes.

When el-Hindi was arrested, news outlets reported he was part of a conspiracy “to kill US troops in Iraq.” Anyone reading about his case would have thought him to be a terrorist just as anyone reading about Tounisi likely thinks he is probably a terrorist.

Finally, after he and two other men were arrested, then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales declared in a press conference:

Let me be clear about why criminal charges such as these are important in our fight against terrorism. We cannot wait until an attack happens. We will continue to use our criminal laws as Congress intended, to charge individuals once they conspire to provide support to terrorism or conspire to kill abroad. [emphasis added]

Or, rather, the US will continue to convince and push Muslim individuals in targeted sting operations to participate in conspiracies or plots that will then be held up to show law enforcement is doing a good job of preventing individuals from committing acts of terrorism. The advantage being the FBI can guarantee one hundred percent of the time that these individuals will not hurt Americans. On the other hand, individuals like Tamerlan Tsarnaev,  Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab or Nidal Hasan are much harder to thwart because they are not under FBI control. So, if young Muslims being robbed of their futures by the FBI are considered statistics, they are helpful in making it appear that the FBI has a much better record preventing terrorism than it actually does when rare acts of terrorism actually occur.

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."