An attorney for an Aurora teenager facing terrorism charges raised the question at a pretrial hearing Tuesday about whether expanded U.S. surveillance methods -- the subject of heated national debate -- were used in her client's case.
Abdella Ahmad Tounisi's lawyer, Molly Armour, told a judge it's unclear if authorities used enhanced surveillance against Tounisi but that she would press for clarity. It's the second time in just over a month that enhanced government surveillance has come up in a Chicago terrorism case.
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The American-born Tounisi, 18, has pleaded not guilty to lying to authorities and to attempting to provide material support to a terrorist group by trying to join al-Qaida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, which is fighting the Bashar Assad regime in Syria.
Attorneys for another Chicago-area terrorist suspect and a friend of Tounisi's, Adel Daoud, recently asked a judge to order prosecutors to state if they used enhanced surveillance in his case. If government investigators did, the defense lawyers signaled they would challenge the evidence on constitutional grounds.
Daoud, 19, has pleaded not guilty to attempting to detonate a device he thought was a bomb outside a Chicago bar. He, like Tounisi, remains in jail awaiting trial.
In both cases, the government has acknowledged in court filings that they used the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which governs secret surveillance. But they have not specified if they drew on 2008 amendments of the law that led to the more sweeping surveillance.
National debate about surveillance was triggered by revelations from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who said secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, courts authorized one program that gathers U.S. phone records and another that tracks the use of U.S.-based Internet servers by suspected foreign terrorists.
Since the 2008 amendments, the government has consistently declined requests in terrorism cases to say if enhanced surveillance methods kick-started wider investigations, according to the Daoud filing in June.
Federal prosecutors have declined to comment on the Daoud or Tounisi cases since they are ongoing. And Tounisi's attorney, Molly Armour, declined to comment beyond telling the judge Tuesday it was "unclear whether evidence was FISA or FISA Amendment Act-related."