Update — 4/6/15: Another woman, Keonna Thomas of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was charged on April 3, 2015 with providing material support to a terrorist organization by allegedly attempting to join ISIS.
Two Brooklyn women arrested today on charges of conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction are the 11th and 12th U.S. women linked to terrorism motivated by Islamic extremism since 2014. Women engaging with terrorist groups is not a new phenomenon, but their numbers have dramatically increased since 2014: ADL has documented 12 female U.S. residents linked to terrorism in the last 15 months – the same as the total number of women in the 11 years between 2002 and 2013.
Noelle Velentzas, a 28-year-old U.S. citizen from Brooklyn, New York and Asia Siddiqui, a 31-year-old U.S. citizen from Brooklyn, New York and Velentzas’s former roommate, allegedly researched how to make explosive devices and purchased the materials necessary to do so. Although court documents do not indicate that they had chosen a target, they expressed a preference for attacking law enforcement and U.S. government and military facilities.
The two made clear that they were motivated by Islamic extremism. According to court documents, Velentzas praised the 9/11 attacks and repeatedly stated that her heroes are Osama bin Laden and his mentor, Abdullah Azzam.
Moreover, Velentzas and Siddiqui have an extensive history of engaging with radical extremism online. In 2006, according to court documents, Siddiqui “became close with Samir Khan,” who went on to join Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and, together with AQAP propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki, founded Inspire magazine, the group’s primary English-language magazine. In 2009, Siddiqui wrote a poem that was published in Jihad Recollections, an earlier magazine that Khan produced.
Extremist magazines including Jihad Recollections and Inspire have actively encouraged submissions from readers in the hope that having their work published will lead the readers to become further entrenched in the extremist organization. Siddiqui herself allegedly expressed support for Mohamed Osman Mohamud, another American who was published in Jihad Recollections and who went on to attempt a domestic attack – in his case, the attempted bombing of the Portland, OR Christmas tree lighting ceremony in 2010.
Other Americans that have written for Jihad Recollections include Younes Abdullah Muhammad (aka Jesse Curtis Morton), a co-founder of now-defunct extremist group Revolution Muslim. Muhammad is currently in prison, having pleaded guilty to threatening the creators of South Park.
Siddiqui and Velentzas also appeared to have been inspired by other domestic attacks, including the Boston Marathon bombing.
Court documents indicate that Siddiqui told an undercover informant “Velentzas has been obsessed with pressure cookers since the Boston Marathon attacks in 2013 and often makes comments about pressure cookers,” and Velentzas told the informant that “she had recently received a pressure cooker as a present, and joked about cooking something in the pressure cooker, then laughed and added, ‘food,’ – a reference to explosive materials.”
Like the Tsarnaev brothers, who are accused of having perpetrated the Boston Marathon bombing, Siddiqui and Velentzas attempted to learn how to make bombs from Inspire magazine. Referring to the Spring 2014 issue of Inspire that provided instructions for the construction and placement of car bombs, Velentzas allegedly stated that “Inspire magazine was useful…to learn how to ‘valet’ his/her car and how to cook ‘food.’” She regularly used the word “food” as a euphemism for explosives.
The two also allegedly watched ISIS propaganda videos online, including beheading and recruitment videos, and expressed affinity for ISIS. According to court documents, Velentzas stated that she wanted them to be referred to as “citizens of the Islamic State,” and “that attacks on ISIS were tantamount to attacks on her own state.”
Velentzas was also reportedly friends on Facebook with Tairod Pugh, a New Jersey man arrested in March for attempting to join ISIS.
Seventeen U.S. residents in total have been arrested on Islamic extremism motivated terror charges in 2015, 6 of whom were from New York State. If arrests continue at the current rate, it will reflect a marked increase of arrests over the last three years, corresponding to the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and its aggressive recruitment and propaganda campaigns.
Twenty-five U.S. residents in total were linked to Islamic extremism in 2014, and 14 in 2013, although significant numbers of individuals not identified are believed to have traveled abroad to join terrorist groups.
This morning’s arrest also marked the fourth instance of a domestic attack plot in 2015. In January, Ohio resident Christopher Lee Cornell was arrested for his plot to attack the U.S. Capitol after failing to connect with ISIS members abroad and in February, New York City residents Abdurasul Juraboev and Akhror Saidakhmetov were arrested for attempting to join ISIS and discussing the possibility of a domestic attack if they were unable to do so, and in March, Hasan and Jonas Edmonds were arrested for allegedly attempting to join ISIS and plotting an attack against a military base.
Notably, there were no known domestic plots in 2014; the current increase may be related to an increase in ISIS propaganda encouraging such attacks.
Thirty-five U.S. residents have been publicly linked to or cited inspiration from ISIS since 2014.