Bianca Cseke | The DePaulia
Thomas Osadzinski came to DePaul in Fall 2017 to attain a bachelor of computer science degree in software development. Now, he’s been accused of writing computer code intended to assist ISIS in spreading propaganda.
The code, a Python script, copies ISIS media channels onto an unnamed social media platform in a rapid rotation to prevent the content from being banned, according to the criminal complaint filed against him.
It works like this: The unnamed social media platform allows bots — a computer program designed to repeatedly perform a specific task — to send out 500 messages per minute. After one bot runs out of messages, Osadzinski’s code causes the messages to roll over immediately to a second bot. This repeats with eight bots before starting again with the first bot.
The code allows material which would generally be located and banned by said platform to spread more quickly without being flagged and eliminates the need for this task to be performed manually.
He titled the project “Operation: Heralds of the Internet,” and told undercover FBI agents — whom he believed to be ISIS supporters and members of pro-ISIS media — that he considered his project to be the “highest form of jihad,” according to the criminal complaint filed against him.
“No more than 10 brothers know how to do this kind of [media] jihad,” Osadzinski said regarding his script, according to the complaint.
He began to develop the system around March 27, the complaint states.
University spokesperson Carol Hughes confirmed Osadzinski is currently enrolled at DePaul.
“We recognize the seriousness of the charges and would cooperate with authorities if contacted,” Hughes said in a statement to The DePaulia.
Osadzinski has taken a number of computer science courses at DePaul, according to the complaint, including Python for Programmers; Information Systems, Applied Networks and Security; and Computer Science I and II.
Though some professors declined to comment citing FERPA laws, one professor said he did not seem to stand out among other students in the classroom.
“While he took a class with me, I never got a sense of what he was like as a person from the classroom interactions,” said Amber Settle, one of Osadzinski’s former CDM professors, in an email. “I don’t recall him attending office hours either.”
The dean of CDM, David Miller, declined to comment for this story.
Osadzinski is charged with one count of attempting to provide material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization, according to a federal release. He shared the script with the covert FBI employees, leading to his arrest.
Before computers, Osadzinski told the agents that he did English voice-overs on videos for a pro-ISIS media organization. In the video he allegedly voiced, he encourages Muslims to “return to the flames of war into the countries of aggressors,” which is spoken to a song which urges viewers to “go and answer the call, don’t spare none, kill them all, it is now time to rise, slit their throats watch them die.”
He also told them that he “knows English well” and that if they needed help, he would help them.
“Sometimes I am busy with school, but jihad is always more important than relaxing and games,” Osadzinski said to one agent, according to the complaint.
He also studied explosive-making and considered getting a gun, the complaint states.
“I am doing a lot of reading…like explosive making…once I get my gun and explosive belt, the mukhabarat [Arabic term for state security and intelligence services] will never get me,” Osadzinski said, the complaint alleges.
Two weeks before school started, Osadzinski sent agents a photo of his room. The only thing on the wall was a poster they translated to mean “al-Jihad.” Osadzinski said he printed it at DePaul’s library.
Three weeks ago, on Nov. 2, he sent them another picture: this time, of a handwritten note laid on an ISIS flag.
“I RENEW MY PLEDGE TO ABU IBRAHIM AL-HASHIMI AL-QURASHI, IN THE LAND OF AMERICA,” the note said.
Osadzinski has a detention hearing on Friday, the Chicago Tribune reported, and until then, is being held without bond.