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April 2, 2015

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 22, 2013

Inspire Magazine: A Staple Of Domestic Terror

Pressure Cooker Bomb From Inspire Magazine

Update – May 30: The eleventh issue of Al Qaeda in the Ara­bian Penin­sula’s Inspire mag­a­zine cel­e­brates the April 15 Boston Bomb­ing, praises the Tsar­naev broth­ers and encour­ages future attacks against the U.S.

Update – April 23: Federal law enforcement officials have reportedly confirmed that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his brother got bomb-making instructions from Inspire magazine.

Shortly after authorities revealed that pressure cookers were used in the explosives detonated at the Boston Marathon last week, numerous media outlets began to report and speculate that the bombs matched designs in Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s English-language terror magazine, Inspire.

Let’s be clear, there is still no evidence that brothers Tamerlan and Dzkhokhar Tsarnaev read the terrorist magazine or used its pressure cooker instructions, which are not unique to Inspire. However, the Tsarnaev’s online activity and social media profiles indicate some fascination with militancy and Islam that are consistent with other messages of Inspire.

Numerous international and domestic extremists motivated by radical interpretations of Islam have been influenced by the magazine and, in some cases, reportedly utilized the bomb making instructions in their attempts to carry out attacks. In the United States, for example:

  • In November 2012, Raees Qazi was arrested along with his brother, Sheheryar, for allegedly plotting a bomb attack against unspecified targets in New York City.  Raees reportedly admitted having read Inspire magazine, and a search of his home turned up bomb-making components consistent with instructions that can be found in an issue of Inspire he had read.
  • In November 2011, Jose Pimentel was arrested and charged with state-level terrorism offenses in New York after he allegedly came close to completing three bombs based on an Inspire design. Pimentel’s website, “True Islam,” also reposted PDF copies of Inspire magazine. Pimentel apparently had planned to attack returning U.S. military personnel, post office and police targets. He is still awaiting trial.
  • In July 2011, Naser Jason Abdo was arrested at a motel in Killeen, Texas, where authorities claimed that he was plotting to attack a restaurant frequented by military personnel based at Fort Hood.  Bomb making components were recovered from the motel room. The article “How to Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom” from the first issue of Inspire magazine was reportedly also found in his room. Abdo has since been sentenced to life-in-prison for his attempted attack.
  • Adel Daoud, who was arrested in September 2012 and charged with plotting to bomb a Chicago-area bar, sent his friends copies of the magazine in order to “brainwash them,” and called Inspire “the best magazine I have read.”

Inspire’s solicitation for reader contributions have also played a role in the radicalization process of other would be bombers in the U.S.

  • Mohamed Osman Mohamud, who was convicted of attempting to bomb the 2010 Christmas Tree Lighting in Portland, Oregon, allegedly wrote and submitted an article to Inspire, although it was not published.
  • Quazi Nafis, who pleaded guilty to attempting to bomb the New York Federal Reserve Building in October 2012, also wrote an article that he supposedly planned to submit to Inspire after his attack in which he described his desire to “destroy America.”

Most recently, in November 2012, four men from Southern California were arrested and charged with planning to travel abroad to Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban and Al Qaeda. According to the criminal complaint, the investigation began in January 2012 when one of the men was searched as he crossed the U.S.-Mexico border and was found to have a copy of Inspire in his possession.

Samir Khan, a 24-year-old American known for distributing terrorist propaganda material online, was the principal author of Inspire before he was killed by a U.S. drone strike on September 30, 2011.

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