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April 2, 2015 Off

NY Arrests Put Spotlight on Female Islamic Extremists

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.

A poem by Asia Siddiqui published in the extremist magazine Jihad Recollections

A poem by Asia Sid­diqui in the extrem­ist mag­a­zine Jihad Rec­ol­lec­tions

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.”

Image from an article on making car bombs in the  Spring 2014 issue of Inspire

Image from an arti­cle on mak­ing car bombs in the Spring 2014 issue of Inspire

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.

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April 26, 2012 Off

Jihadists Solicit Help Online to Craft Their Message

The Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF), an umbrella orga­ni­za­tion that dis­trib­utes videos, lit­er­a­ture and other mes­sages for Al Qaeda and other ter­ror­ist groups, has appar­ently posted a sub­mis­sion form on Google’s blog ser­vice solic­it­ing “par­tic­i­pa­tion, com­ments or sug­ges­tions” for its propaganda.

The form includes instruc­tions in both Eng­lish and Ara­bic for con­tact­ing the group, with reminders not to “men­tion your real name, address..etc. [sic]” and to include an email address “so we can reply to you.” The page also includes instruc­tions for send­ing encrypted messages.

GIMF’s call for “par­tic­i­pa­tion” not only demon­strates the con­tin­u­ing effort by Jihadist pro­pa­gan­dists to exploit main­stream social media plat­forms to com­mu­ni­cate with poten­tial fol­low­ers (Al Shabaab, for exam­ple, started using Twit­ter in Decem­ber 2011), but also how Jihadist media enti­ties con­tinue to rely on the skills and efforts of indi­vid­ual fol­low­ers to help craft their message.

For exam­ple, Al Qaeda in the Ara­bian Peninsula’s English-language mag­a­zine Inspire reg­u­larly encour­ages read­ers to con­tribute arti­cles, quotes and images. It has also pro­vided con­tact infor­ma­tion for read­ers “inter­ested in con­tribut­ing to this mag­a­zine with any skills – be it writ­ing, research, edit­ing or advice” and sug­gested that indi­vid­u­als use the same encryp­tion pro­gram ref­er­enced by GIMF “in order to avoid detec­tion from the intel­li­gence ser­vices [sic].”

Mohamed Osman Mohamud, accused of attempt­ing to det­o­nate a vehi­cle he believed was laden with explo­sives at an Ore­gon Christ­mas tree light­ing cer­e­mony in 2010, is an exam­ple of some­one who responded to such solic­i­ta­tions. Not only did he allegedly write and send an arti­cle to Inspire (which was not pub­lished), he also sub­mit­ted pieces that were pub­lished in Jihad Rec­ol­lec­tions, the self-described “first Eng­lish Jihad mag­a­zine” released by a col­lab­o­ra­tion of online ter­ror­ist sym­pa­thiz­ers, includ­ing Samir Khan. Khan pro­duced Inspire up until he was killed by a U.S. drone strike in Sep­tem­ber 2011 in Yemen.

Oth­ers have taken it upon them­selves to cre­ate jihadist pro­pa­ganda with­out nec­es­sar­ily uti­liz­ing estab­lished ter­ror­ist media out­lets, rely­ing on inter­net forums and other social media for dis­tri­b­u­tion of their mate­ri­als. For exam­ple, an April 2012 image of the New York sky­line with the mes­sage “Al Qaeda Com­ing Soon Again in New York” attracted wide­spread media atten­tion and prompted enhanced law enforce­ment vig­i­lance. The image, appar­ently cre­ated by an indi­vid­ual mem­ber of a jihadist forum, demon­strated the pro­pa­ganda value that can be cre­ated by indi­vid­u­als using com­mer­cially avail­able software.

While these mes­sages may lack the cachet of a “brand name” pro­pa­ganda dis­trib­uted by GIMF and sim­i­lar ter­ror­ist media pro­duc­ers, the mate­ri­als still attract atten­tion, cre­ate fear and encour­age oth­ers to play an active role in the cre­ation of pro­pa­ganda in sup­port of terror.

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