Chicago man accused of helping preserve Islamic State propaganda on social media

Thomas Osadzinski, a 20-year-old college student, has been charged in a criminal complaint with one count of attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization

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Dirksen Federal Courthouse

Sun-Times file photo

Thomas Osadzinski said he couldn’t just “sit in the chair while Muslims are dying,” so he allegedly studied bomb-making and promised he would not be stopped “once I get my gun and explosive belt.” 

But the 20-year-old Lake View resident and DePaul University student also studied computer science. And that’s where the feds say he found his calling. Osadzinski allegedly went on to develop what he would call the “highest form of jihad” — a computer program that used social-media bots to save and help disseminate Islamic State propaganda online. 

“No more than 10 brothers know how to do this kind of jihad,” Osadzinski allegedly once boasted. 

Now Osadzinski is in federal custody, charged in a 38-page criminal complaint with attempting to provide material support and resources to the Islamic State. Also, despite once allegedly claiming, “I will never go to their false man-made court,” Osadzinski found himself Tuesday in the courtroom of U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Cole.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Barry Jonas labeled Osadzinski a risk of flight and a danger to the community. Cole ordered Osadzinski held in federal custody until a detention hearing could be held. The hearing is set for Friday. 

Steve Greenberg, Osadzinski’s defense attorney, later insisted his client “is a young man who was acting lawfully.”  

“He is not writing code to support ISIS,” Greenberg said in a text message to the Chicago Sun-Times. “While we understand the government has to be vigilant, they have overreached here, and seek to criminalize religious beliefs and free speech.”

The case against Osadzinski is believed to be the first of its kind — a terrorism case brought against a U.S.-based defendant involving computer code. Seamus Hughes, deputy director of George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, agreed and pointed to the computer skills credited to Osadzinski.

“The FBI was fortunate to have online covert employees who connected with him,” Hughes said in a message to the Sun-Times. “He was punching above his weight in terms of skills compared to other ISIS American supporters.”

The investigation of Osadzinski, a Park Ridge native, dates back at least to June 2018 and involved undercover FBI employees and someone working confidentially with law enforcement. 

Osadzinski allegedly used social media to seek help with instructions for manufacturing a highly unstable explosive in June 2018. The feds say he believed he was on the “terrorist watch list.” And he once sent someone a series of emojis that authorities took to mean he would commit a car-bomb attack if ever drafted by the U.S. military.

Then, in March, Osadzinski allegedly sent someone a message to say he was starting “a new and very valuable project.” He sent the message to an online persona used by federal investigators to portray a member of a pro-Islamic State media organization.  

By August, Osadzinski allegedly had begun sharing computer code with that online persona, as well as a document entitled “Operation: Heralds of the Internet.”

The feds say the document described, in detail, Osadzinski’s plan to use the computer script to “sort, copy, organize, and redistribute large volumes of content from ISIS official media and other pro-ISIS” social media channels.  

He allegedly said he wanted to “spread it everywhere.”

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