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April 2, 2015 0

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 1

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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