CHICAGO (AP) — In a rare move for terror cases, a federal judge agreed Thursday to release on home confinement an Illinois teenager charged with trying to join an al-Qaida-linked militant group in war-torn Syria.
Abdella Ahmad Tounisi, 18, of Aurora, was arrested last month in an FBI online sting trying to travel from Chicago's O'Hare International Airport to Syria. Tounisi was friends with a man charged last year with trying to bomb a Chicago bar.
The otherwise soft-spoken U.S. Magistrate Judge Daniel Martin leaned forward on his bench during a Thursday hearing and raised his voice, telling the teenager he should take the allegations seriously.
"This is no game, Mr. Tounisi. OK?" Martin said.
After ruling, the judge stayed his own order to give prosecutors 24 hours to decide if they would appeal Tounisi's release. The judge also said Tounisi's family would have to install a landline in their Aurora home to comply with home confinement orders.
The earliest Tounisi was likely to be released is Friday afternoon.
Tounisi allegedly hoped to join Jabhat al-Nusrah, an al-Qaida-affiliated group fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime in a bloody civil war. Tounisi, a U.S. citizen, was snared in an Internet sting after contacting a sham website set up by the FBI that purported to hook up would-be fighters with terrorists, federal prosecutors said.
Tounisi 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.
The complaint says Tounisi was a close friend of Adel Daoud, a Chicago-area teen 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. Federal prosecutors don't accuse Tounisi of participating in the alleged attack planned by Daoud.