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20-year-old Chicago man charged with writing code to spread ISIS propaganda

Thomas Osadzinski, a student at DePaul University in Chicago, is accused of writing a computer script to make ISIS propaganda more accessible to social media users.
Thomas Osadzinski
The Kluczynski Federal Building and Dirksen United States Courthouse in Chicago, Illinois. Thomas Osadzinski made an appearance in court after being charged with providing material support to ISIS. (Flickr/<a href="https://flic.kr/p/hQ4UWf">Ken Lund</a>)

U.S. authorities have arrested a 20-year-old Chicago man for allegedly writing computer code to help the Islamic State terrorist group spread propaganda.

Thomas Osadzinski, a student at DePaul University, is accused of writing a computer script to make ISIS propaganda more accessible to social media users. U.S. prosecutors charged Osadzinski with one count of attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist group.

A criminal complaint alleges Osadzinski shared the script and instructions on using it earlier this year with people he thought were ISIS supporters. Osadizinski told undercover FBI agents that he was in the process of creating a custom Gentoo Linux system that was solely to be used by ISIS members, according to the complaint.

Osadzinski made a brief appearance in court Tuesday and was ordered to be held without bond. His detention hearing is set for Friday.

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Steve Greenberg, Osadzinski’s attorney, denied that his client had broken any laws.

“This is a young man who was acting lawfully,” Greenberg told CyberScoop in an email. “He is not writing code to support ISIS.  While we understand the government has to be vigilant, they have overreached here, and seek to criminalize religious beliefs and free speech.”

On a LinkedIn profile under Osadzinski’s name, the DePaul student lists a short stint earlier this year as a contractor doing “software testing” at cybersecurity company BlackBerry Cylance.

But a BlackBerry Cylance spokesperson told CyberScoop: “According to our records, this individual has never been an employee or contractor for Cylance.”

Osadzinski is studying computer science at DePaul, according to the LinkedIn profile.

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“We can confirm that Thomas Osadzinski is currently enrolled at DePaul,” said Carol Hughes, a spokesperson for the university.  “We recognize the seriousness of the charges and would cooperate with authorities if contacted.”

This is the second time in a week that a resident of the Chicago area has been arrested for allegedly providing material support to ISIS. On Friday, the Justice Department announced the arrest of Jason Brown, 37, for allegedly trying to send money to an ISIS soldier in Syria.

You can read the full complaint against Osadzinski below.

UPDATED, 8:58 p.m, EDT: This story has been updated with a comment from BlackBerry Cylance. 

Sean Lyngaas

Written by Sean Lyngaas

Sean Lyngaas is CyberScoop’s Senior Reporter covering the Department of Homeland Security and Congress. He was previously a freelance journalist in West Africa, where he covered everything from a presidential election in Ghana to military mutinies in Ivory Coast for The New York Times. Lyngaas’ reporting also has appeared in The Washington Post, The Economist and the BBC, among other outlets. His investigation of cybersecurity issues in the nuclear sector, backed by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, won plaudits from industrial security experts. He was previously a reporter with Federal Computer Week and, before that, with Smart Grid Today. Sean earned a B.A. in public policy from Duke University and an M.A. in International Relations from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

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