UPDATE: 4/23/2013 – 4:46 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — A suburban teenager, accused of trying to support a terrorist organization, appeared in federal court on Tuesday, but his arraignment was delayed.
CBS 2’s Jim Williams reports security at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse was tighter than normal on Tuesday as18-year-old Abdella Ahmad Tounisi appeared in court.
Tounisi was dressed in an orange jail jumpsuit as he appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Daniel Martin, following his arrest at O’Hare International Airport as he prepared to board a plane to Syria, where he allegedly intended to join up with a terrorist group.
The federal judge handling the case delayed Tounisi’s arraignment after his original lawyer announced he had a conflict that would prevent him from representing the teen. The judge continued the case until May 2 to give his new attorney, Molly Armour, time to prepare an argument to free Tounisi on bond.
He’ll stay behind bars at least until his next court appearance.
CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports Tounisi, of Aurora, allegedly wrote to an FBI agent posing as a terrorist recruiter that he was willing to die, but had no fighting experience. He allegedly shared plans to go to Syria and to die for the cause.
On Friday, as he was about to board a plane at O’Hare, FBI agents arrested him.
He’s charged with attempting to provide material support to terrorism.
According to the criminal complaint, from January to April 2013, Tounisi searched online for information related to overseas travel and violent jihad. Authorities say he was interested in a terrorist group connected to al-Qaeda.
Security expert and former FBI agent Ross Rice said, since the 9/11 terror attacks, groups like al Qaeda have had a hard time mounting a terrorist attack in the U.S.
“So what they’re resorting to is enlisting U.S. citizens, or people that are in this country legally, radicalizing them, and then getting them to do terrorist acts on their behalf,” Rice said.
The complaint also says Tounisi is a friend of Chicago-area teen Adel Daoud, who is awaiting trial on charges he tried to detonate what he thought was a bomb last year outside a Chicago bar.
Federal authorities allege the two talked of blowing up concerts and nightclubs, including a spot in Naperville.
The criminal complaint against Tounisi quotes Daoud telling an undercover operative Tousini knew the nightclub, because he “went to public school and all these filthy people go there and use drugs and alcohol.”
Tounisi’s father, Ahmad Tounisi, was in court on Tuesday, but declined to speak to reporters after the hearing.
“I have no comment,” he said outside the courthouse.
It was no doubt stressful for Ahmad Tounisi, who on Monday said his son would not have done what authorities allege.
On Monday, Tounisi’s father said he doesn’t believe the allegations, and claimed his son was the victim of “a setup.”
“The way I understand it, he was talking to somebody on the Internet. To me, that’s a setup. Do I believe what they’re saying? No, I don’t.” he said. “My boy – the one I raised, the one I know – would never join a terrorist group, unless there is somebody that has been playing with his mind; somebody that’s been trying to set him up.”
“Why do we always hear about a young kid being arrested? Why not a 30-year-old man, a 40-year-old man, 50-year-old man? What are they preying on our little kids? The Muslim and Arab communities need to wake up,” he added.
Last fall, the FBI questioned Tounisi about his relationship with Daoud.
Tounisi was never charged in that case, but then early this year, after that interrogation, Tounisi allegedly started communicating online with what he thought was an al Qaeda recruiter, according to the FBI. The person he was communicating with was really an undercover agent.