A Chicago teenager has been docked over terrorism charges in connection with an FBI sting operation that has raised new questions about whether US investigators are engaging in entrapment.
Abdella Ahmad Tounisi, 18, made a brief court appearance Tuesday in a federal court in Chicago.
The American-born man from the Chicago suburb of Aurora is accused of seeking to join al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, which is fighting Syria’s government in a civil war.
He tried to join the group through a website, constructed by the FBI, which urged readers to “join your lion brothers… fighting under the true banner of Islam”.
Questions have been raised over the use of such sites by authorities, which critics say is a way of feeding the minds of impressionable youths to contemplate crimes that otherwise wouldn’t cross their minds.
“These sites can end up creating crimes,” said Phil Turner, a former federal prosecutor turned defence attorney in Chicago.
“Real terrorists don’t need to go to a website for contacts. They have real contacts.”
Federal investigators, he added, sometimes favour internet stings because they are less costly and labour intensive than traditional stakeouts.
In their defence, authorities noted that visiting such sites or fantasising about acts of terrorism is not the crime; rather, it is acting on those fantasies.
Authorities said Tounisi took steps, which included trying to board a plane at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago on Friday, as he prepared to start the first leg of a trip that authorities allege he hoped would hook him up with fighters in Syria. Tounisi was arrested at the airport.
He is charged with one count of attempting to provide material support to foreign terrorists. If convicted, he faces a maximum 15-year prison term.