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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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December 24, 2014

13th Issue of AQAP Inspire Calls for Attacks Against U.S. Airliners

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Inspire 13 cover image

Update: 12/24/2013 – Following notification by the ADL, YouTube has removed the video promoting Inspire 13 from its site.

The 13th issue of Inspire, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)’s English language magazine, released on December 24, lays out a strategy for defeating the U.S. by attacking American military technology, manpower, media and economy, and encourages lone wolf attacks against commercial airplanes and financial figures.

The central feature of the magazine, entitled “The Hidden Bomb” presents step-by-step, illustrated instructions for constructing a home-made easily portable bomb inside 17cm of a plastic water bottle case.  These instructions follow previous issues of Inspire that included instructions for pressure cooker bombs and car bombs, as well as suggestions for other types of attacks such as running civilians over with cars.

This issue of Inspire suggests that the bombs be used against U.S. commercial airliners – specifically American Airlines, Delta, United or Continental, and ideally over U.S. soil. It also provides advice as to the best location on the plane and altitude at which to detonate the device.

If an attack on a U.S. airliner is not feasible, the magazine suggests attacking British companies British Airways or Easy Jet, or French companies AirFrance or AirFrance KL. A different article further clarifies the priorities of attack, stating that, “the first priority and the main focus should be on America, then the United Kingdom, then France…. This goes on with the NATO countries as per the known order.”

The guide claims that this bomb can be hidden in a part of the body not included in airport pat-downs and is undetectable by dogs, odor-detecting machines, or metal detectors. The article states that the bomb is detectable by millimeter wave scanners, but the magazine advises that “in most cases they are not used in local airports.”

Inspire 13 also encourages assassinations of American financial leaders listed as “economic personalities” such as Ben Bernanke or “wealthy entrepreneurs” such as Bill Gates. It advises that if those personalities remove their money from U.S. banks, stop investing in the U.S., and declare that they disagree with American policies, they will not be targeted.

The magazine also includes several sections highlighting the actions of Al Qaeda members and individuals that it claims undertook violent actions on behalf of the extremist cause. These include Alton Nolan of Oklahoma, Michael Zehaf Bebeau of Quebec, Martin Rouleau-Couture of Ottowa, Zale Thompson of New York and Man Haron Monis of Australia – the majority of whom seem to have undertaken attacks through some combination of personal violent tendencies and encouragement from terrorist propaganda  but have not been associated with terrorist movements.

Image from the magazine advocating lone wolf attacks

Image from the magazine advocating lone wolf attacks

“The Lions of Allah who are all over the globe – some call them lone wolves – should know that they are the West’s worst nightmare,” states one article.

In some sections, it attempts to exploit controversial issues in the U.S. as rationales for joining terrorist movements. For example, a short quote states, “If I am an Afro-American living in Ferguson – I’d rather be labeled a terrorist.” One article presented as an interview with an AQAP member states U.S. torture of Muslim prisoners as a reason to attack the U.S.

The majority of justifications presented for attacking the U.S., however, have been utilized by Al Qaeda and its affiliates since the group’s founding: Attacks should be undertaken because of alleged American support for current regimes in Muslim countries;; support for the Russian and Indian governments in their fights against terrorism; and having “surrendered to the Jews” in supporting the State of Israel.

Like other issues of Inspire, it also attempts to draw readers in by asking provocative questions and making the attack sound simple. “It’s not necessary to do what Mohammed Atta (of the 9/11 attack) did,” notes a poem in the magazine, “it’s enough to do what Nidal Hasan (of the Fort Hood shooting) did.”

Other sections of the magazine include an essay commemorating Tamerlan Tsarnaev of the Boston Marathon Bombing, quotes about Inspire by American academics and government officials, and a “Message for the American People Regarding the Killing of Luke Somers,” the American journalist taken hostage by AQAP and killed during a rescue mission earlier this month.

This edition of Inspire was released together with a promotional video that featured images from the magazine to the backdrop of a song in English that included the lyrics, “The battle for the hearts and minds will continue till the kuffar (apostates or disbelievers) in vice,” “Inspiring the believers to jihad has become the newest fad,” and, “America you are being watched…the mujahideen (religious fighters) are coming for you.”

Inspire is perhaps the most notorious Al Qaeda propaganda vehicle. It has played a role in the radicalization of multiple domestic extremists, including the Tsarnaev brothers (of the Boston Marathon bombing), Jose Pimentel (attempted bombing in NYC) and Abdel Daoud (attempted bombing in Chicago).

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August 19, 2014

New AQAP Magazine Calls For Lone-Wolf Attacks Against U.S. And U.K.

aqap-aqsa-we-are-coming-inspire

Back cover of the AQAP publication, “Palestine: Betrayal of the Guilty Conscience”

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) issued a new English-language magazine on Twitter August 16. Titled “Palestine: Betrayal of the Guilty Conscience,” the publication uses the recent conflict in Gaza as an excuse to renew the group’s call for lone-wolf attacks in the U.S. and the U.K.

AQAP has regularly issued such calls for lone-wolf attacks in the past, including just a few days ago when it urged followers to attack the U.S. in retaliation for military assistance in Iraq.

The magazine, which reuses content from AQAP’s Inspire magazine, includes directions for building pressure cooker bombs and car bombs and suggests a new list of potential targets including Israeli, British and American owned companies, tourist resorts frequented by American, British and Israeli citizens, Las Vegas casinos and night clubs, Georgia Military College, the US Air Force Academy, General Atomics headquarters in San Diego, and Marks and Spencer stores in Britain.

For more information about this publication, see the ADL analysis “AQAP Exploits Gaza Conflict to Call for Lone-Wolf Attacks Against U.S.”

ADL has also written extensively about the  influence posed by such online English-language propaganda on would-be domestic extremists and the ensuing threat it poses to domestic security.

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