CHICAGO -- A federal judge has given the maximum available 15-year prison sentence to a suburban Chicago man convicted of seeking to join an al-Qaida-linked group in Syria.
"You chose to join a bunch of thugs that take pride in cowardly killings. You could have chose to become a hero, yet you chose to become a villain," the judge said.
Lawyers for Abdella Ahmad Tounisi argued Thursday at his sentencing in Chicago that the 23-year-old was motivated foremost, not by extremist ideology, but to help Syrians by fighting Bashar Assad's repressive regime. They asked for a seven-year sentence.
But Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan rejected that. He said the group that the Aurora, Illinois, man sought to join, Jabhat al-Nusra, was affiliated with those "who called for the destruction of the U.S." Addressing Tounisi directly, he told him "there are no free passes when it comes to collusion with terrorists."
The judge added he would have imposed a sentence beyond the statutory 15-year maximum if he could have.
In court, Tounisi apologized to his family and to the government. He looked at the federal prosecutor and said, "Thank you for saving my life."