Undercover FBI agents catch Chicago college student trying to write code for ISIS


Grace Hauck


USA TODAY

Published 7: 57 PM EST Nov 19, 2019

CHICAGO — A 20-year-old U.S. college student was arrested Monday for allegedly writing computer code to help the Islamic State spread propaganda online, according to the FBI.

Thomas Osadzinski, a student at DePaul University who lives in the city’s northside neighborhood of Buena Park, was charged in a federal criminal complaint with one count of attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organization.

Osadzinski appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Cole in Chicago Tuesday and was ordered held without bond.

According to the complaint, Osadzinski designed a process that uses a computer script to make ISIS propaganda easier to access and disseminate on a social media platform, bypassing preventive code which routinely removes ISIS content due to the violent nature of the materials.

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The complaint, however, did not identify the social media platform, saying only that it was a mobile and desktop messaging application.

Osadzinski earlier this year shared his script — and instructions for how to use it — with individuals whom he believed to be ISIS supporters and members of pro-ISIS media organizations, the complaint says. Those individuals were actually covert FBI employees and a person working with them.

Agents began tracking Osadzinski in June of 2018, when he posted in a pro-ISIS chatroom, according to the complaint. Osadzinski, unsolicited, began reaching out to pro-ISIS media platforms and offering to help translate videos from Arabic to English. Osadzinski later told an agent that he had done the English voice-over for a pro-ISIS video.

According to the complaint, Osadzinski appeared to be inspired by the 2009 attack at Fort Hood, Texas, when an Army psychiatrist fatally shot 13 people in the deadliest mass shooting on an American military base. The shooter had shouted “Allahu Akbar” (“God is greatest” in Arabic) during the attack, later calling it retaliation for U.S. wars in the Muslim World.

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Osadzinski communicated with and met the undercover agents several times over the months-long investigation, despite telling them that he knew the FBI was monitoring him.

Osadzinski told one agent that learning computer skills was “very useful for jihad,” according to the complaint. He also shared information about his personal life: In May, Osadzinski told an agent that he had upcoming travel to meet his prospective spouse in Indonesia.

Osadzinski sent one agent a photo of a large poster with Quranic verses written on it pasted on the wall of his 13th-floor apartment, telling the agent that he had printed it out at the university library, according to the complaint. Osadzinski later sent an agent a photo of an ISIS flag in front of his desktop computer.

According to Osadzinski’s LinkedIn profile, he currently works in IT at DePaul. In the past, he worked as a software tester at software developer Cylance Inc. and as an Electronic Sales Associate at Target, his profile says. He lists skills in Java and Python programming languages.

The material support charge is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Judge Cole scheduled a detention hearing for Friday.

DePaul University did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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