2 NYC women arrested on charges they plotted to build bomb
NEW YORK (AP) — Two women — including one who was “obsessed with pressure cookers” — were arrested on charges they plotted to wage violent jihad by building a homemade bomb and using it for a Boston Marathon-type attack.
Noelle Velentzas had been “obsessed with pressure cookers since the Boston Marathon attacks in 2013” and made jokes alluding to explosives after receiving one as a gift, according to a criminal complaint. And it says in a conversation with an undercover investigator about the women’s willingness to fight, she pulled a knife and asked, “Why can’t we be bad b-----s?”
The complaint unsealed in federal court in Brooklyn names Velentzas and her former roommate, Asia Siddiqui, as the targets of an undercover investigation into the thwarted homegrown terror plot.
The women, both from Queens, were held without bail Thursday after a brief court appearance where they spoke only to say they understood the charges against them. Velentzas wore a hijab and a dark dress, and Siddiqui donned a green T-shirt with a long-sleeved black shirt underneath and a dark long skirt.
“My client will enter a plea of not guilty, if and when there is an indictment. I know it’s a serious case, but we’re going to fight it out in court,” said Siddiqui’s lawyer, Thomas Dunn. Velentzas’ attorney had no comment.
The women repeatedly expressed support for violent jihad during conversations with the undercover, who secretly recorded them, according to the complaint.
In 2009, Siddiqui, 31, wrote a poem in a magazine published by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula that declared there is “no excuse to sit back and wait — for the skies rain martyrdom,” investigators wrote in court papers. Velentzas, 28, called Osama bin Laden one of her heroes and said she and Siddiqui were “citizens of the Islamic State,” they said.
Since 2014, the pair plotted to build an explosive device to use in a terrorist attack on American soil, the complaint says. They “researched and acquired some of the components of a car bomb, like the one used in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; a fertilizer bomb, like the one used in the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City; and a pressure cooker bomb, like the one used in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing,” authorities wrote.
After two New York City police officers were gunned down in a patrol car in December, Velentzas told an undercover officer that the deaths showed it was easy to kill a police officer, according to the complaint. She said killing an officer was easier than buying food “because sometimes one has to wait in line to buy food,” according to the complaint.
After the undercover officer mentioned that 25,000 officers had turned out for the first of the funerals for the two officers, Velentzas “complimented” the undercover for coming up with an attractive target and considered whether the other funeral was an appropriate target, according to the complaint.
The complaint suggests that authorities decided to make the arrests after Siddiqui came into “possession of multiple propane gas tanks, as well as instructions for how to transform propane tanks into explosive devices,” and told the undercover she was “disinclined” to talk about her plans.
During a search of the defendants’ homes early Thursday, agents recovered items including three gas tanks, a pressure cooker, fertilizer, handwritten notes on recipes for bomb making and jihadist literature, court papers say. They also found two machetes and two daggers.
“It is very, very important to note: there was never any imminent threat to our fellow New Yorkers,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said when asked about the case. The plot, he added, “was undercut before it could turn into something dangerous.”
Neighbors of Siddiqui said she and her brother lived in the basement of a red-brick three floor house, owned by their parents, who didn’t live there.
“She was quiet, and I never thought she could do this,” said Mohammad Shahidul Haque, a retired hospital lab tech.
The arrests came the same day as another U.S. citizen was brought from Pakistan to New York to face charges he supported a conspiracy to kill Americans. Muhanad Mahmoud Al Farekh appeared Thursday in Brooklyn federal court and was held without bail.
Authorities say Al Farekh conspired to support efforts to kill Americans and U.S. military members abroad. His lawyer did not comment.
Associated Press writers Verena Dobnik, Jake Pearson, Colleen Long and Kiley Armstrong contributed to this report.