Two Queens women were charged Thursday with plotting to detonate a bomb in the U.S. after pledging support for terrorist groups, according to officials and court documents.
Officials said Noelle Velentzas, 28, and Asia Siddiqui, 31, expressed “violent jihadist beliefs.” Siddiqui had contact with members of an Al Qaeda group and Velentzas’ hero was Osama Bin Laden; she had also said people should refer to them as “citizens of the Islamic State,” according to the complaint. They also discussed other deadly bombings, such as attacks on the World Trade Center in 1993 and a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995.
Siddiqui amassed “multiple” propane gas tanks and had instructions on turning them into bombs; Velentzas was “obsessed” with pressure cookers after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, telling an undercover informant “You can fit a lot of things in [the pressure cooker], even if it’s not food,” according to the criminal complaint.
The FBI believes the duo were interested in attacking military and government targets, as well as police funerals, after a conversation with the informant regarding the well-attended funeral for slain Officer Rafael Ramos, according to the special agent with the FBI's New York Joint Terrorism Task Force in the affidavit.
The one-time roommates — Siddiqui in a green shirt and Velentzas wearing a black hijab — appeared in federal court in Brooklyn side by side in front of Magistrate Judge Viktor Pohorelsky. They consented to detention and will have a preliminary hearing May 4.
Siddiqui's attorney, Thomas F. X. Dunn, said she will enter a plea of not guilty
“She and I will address everything in the court room, where it belongs,” he said during brief remarks to reporters outside the court house. “It’s a serious case but we’re going to fight it out in court.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio stressed there was no imminent threat that the women were close to setting off an explosive.
“This was a conspiracy that was undercut before it could turn into something dangerous,” he said. A federal law enforcement source told Newsday that the plot was “aspirational” but “closer to operational” than other recent FBI operations to bust possible jihadists.
To those that know the women, there was no hint of the deadly intentions prosecutors allege they harbor.
Imam Charles Aziz Bilal of the Masjid Al-Hamdulillah mosque on Sutphin Boulevard in Queens said Velentza and Siddiqui attended services for about five years. Velentza and her husband would come by daily, often bringing their “very lovely daughter,” while he described Siddiqui, who is unmarried, as an “outstanding member.”
“We believe these charges are false,” he said. “We know they're false.”
Neighbors outside of the Jamaica, Queens home Velentzas shared with her husband and daughter described them as friendly, if unassuming, family.
“Very friendly, nothing political, nothing extremist," said David Isaac, 64, who saw three black SUVs parked in front of her three-story detached house early Thursday morning. “If they were doing it, they were doing it on the down low.”
Moviz Siddiqui (no relation), a public relations director at the Islamic Circle of North America, said the group had let Velentzas stay in a 12-bed relief shelter for several months. Velentzas, who was homeless, had converted to Islam before staying at the ICNA facility.
“I’m surprised and upset to hear this. We were here to help everyone, Muslim or not,” Siddiqui said. “If she crossed over, we have nothing to do with that."
Asia Siddiqui had ties to radicalism back in 2006 when she became close with Samir Khan, the creator of Inspire, a magazine from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the complaint said. Khan, who called for attacks in the U.S., was killed by an American drone strike in Yemen Sept. 30, 2011.
Siddiqui also supported Mohammad Mohamud, who was arrested in 2010 for planning to blow up a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in Portland, Oregon.
Last year, Siddiqui and Velentzas began to research electrical equipment and chemistry, reading “The Anarchist Cookbook” and the different ways to construct a deadly explosive weapon.
“They were the real deal," the federal law enforcement source said of the women, describing them as being “radicalized and intellectually ready” to wage an attack.
“The only question,” the source said, “was when.”
(With John Asbury, Anthony M. DeStefano, Kevin Deutsch, Alison Fox, Nicole Fuller and John Valenti)