US & World

2 women arrested in NYC, accused of trying to build bomb

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Two women were arrested Thursday on charges they plotted to wage violent jihad by building a homemade bomb and using it for a Boston Marathon-type terror attack.

One of the women, 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.

The complaint unsealed in federal court in Brooklyn names Velentzas and her former roommate, Asia Siddiqui, as the targets of an undercover investigation into a homegrown terror plot.

The women were held without bail 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 an undercover investigator wearing a wire, according to a 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.

At the time of her arrest, Siddiqui was "in possession of multiple propane gas tanks, as well as instructions for how to transform propane tanks into explosive devices," the complaint says.

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 is 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 officer for coming up with an attractive target and considered whether the other funeral was an appropriate target, according to the complaint.

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. His lawyer did not comment. Authorities say Al Farekh conspired to support efforts to kill Americans and U.S. military members abroad.

They follow another New York case announced last month in which a U.S. Air Force veteran was accused of scheming to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State group.

Tairod Pugh, 47, had recently been fired from his job as an airplane mechanic. Prosecutors said he traveled from Egypt to Turkey to ultimately cross the border but was turned away. His attorney has said he would plead not guilty.

Also in March, three other men pleaded not guilty in Brooklyn federal court to terrorism charges in a plot to travel from New York to Syria via Turkey to join the Islamic State group.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Noelle Velentzas's name. KPCC regrets the error.