By Mary Wisniewski
CHICAGO (Reuters) - A Chicago-area man pleaded guilty on Tuesday in federal court to a charge that he tried to travel overseas to join an al Qaeda-linked jihadist group in Syria.
Abdella Ahmad Tounisi, 21, of Aurora, Illinois, was arrested in 2013 as he prepared to board a plane at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport bound for Istanbul, Turkey, prosecutors said.
Tounisi, then 18, had spent four months conducting online research related to overseas travel and violent jihad, focusing specifically on Syria and the Jabhat al-Nusrah terrorist group, prosecutors said.
Jabhat al-Nusrah is listed by the State Department as an alias for al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), a designated foreign terrorist organization.
Tounisi made online contact with someone he thought was a recruiter for Jabhat al-Nusrah, and expressed his willingness to fight for the jihadist cause, according to a plea agreement. A U.S. citizen, Tounisi had planned to travel from Istanbul to Syria, prosecutors said.
Syria has been enmeshed since 2011 in a brutal civil war that began as a revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.
Tounisi admitted to one count of attempting to provide material support to a foreign-terrorist organization, and faces a maximum of 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine when he is sentenced on Dec. 9.
The FBI has said Tounisi was a friend of Adel Daoud, an American accused of trying to stage a bombing outside a downtown Chicago bar in 2012. The agency said Tounisi had not been involved in that plot.
Daoud is set for trial in federal court on Sept. 30.
(Reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Bill Trott)