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    In reversal, terror suspect still in jail

    Friends and family of Abdella Ahmad Tounisi, 18, left a federal court building in Chicago.
    Scott Olson/Getty Images
    Friends and family of Abdella Ahmad Tounisi, 18, left a federal court building in Chicago.

    CHICAGO — A federal judge on Friday quashed another judge’s surprise order to release an Illinois teenager pending trial on charges he sought to join Al Qaeda-linked militants in Syria.

    Abdella Ahmad Tounisi, 18, of Aurora, posed a potential threat not just to Illinois and the United States but to ‘‘the entire world community,’’ said US District Judge Edmond Chang.

    Standing in court in orange jail garb and his legs shackled, Tounisi showed no emotion at the ruling, which ended his chance at freedom as he awaits trial. But his mother, Seham Tounisi, was distraught, crying as she left the Chicago courtroom and leaning against her husband, Ahmad Tounisi. A woman with them said, ‘‘This is unfair!’’


    On Thursday, US Magistrate Judge Daniel Martin ruled Tounisi could be released on home confinement. He stayed his own order to give the government 24 hours to appeal.

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    The American-born Tounisi was snared in an Internet sting after contacting a sham website set up by the FBI purporting to connect would-be fighters with terrorists, according to court filings.

    He was arrested at O’Hare International Airport last month as he allegedly prepared for the first leg of a trip to Syria to join Jabhat al-Nusrah.

    Chang cited e-mails in which Tounisi allegedly stated his intention to join the Al Qaeda-affiliated group fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. That suggests ‘‘the defendant was knowingly attempting to join this group — a very dangerous group,’’ Chang said.

    To drive home Tounisi’s apparent determination and resourcefulness, prosecutor William Ridgway said the cash-strapped teen even managed to divert financial aid intended for the College of DuPage in suburban Chicago to buy his plane ticket.


    Even after worried family members had told Tounisi he ‘‘will be killing [his] mother’’ by persisting in plans to travel abroad, he pushed ahead, the judge said.

    The judge also cited Tounisi’s friend, Adel Daoud, who was arrested last year for allegedly trying to detonate a device he thought was a bomb outside a Chicago bar. Daoud has pleaded not guilty.

    Prosecutors say Tounisi helped brainstorm potential targets with Daoud, though Tounisi was never charged in that case.

    Chang said an FBI interview with Tounisi about Daoud last year should have so frightened Tounisi as to make other alleged plots unthinkable to him.

    ‘‘That should have been a life-altering event,’’ he said. ‘‘But it did not dissuade him.’’


    Defense attorney Molly Armour declined any comment after the hearing.