Two years ago, Asia Siddiqui, 31, told an undercover FBI officer that her roommate, Noelle Velentzas, 28, was obsessed with the Boston Marathon bombers. Their use of a pressure cooker as an improvised explosive device was genius bomb-making, Velentzas said, and she wanted to follow in their footsteps with a pressure cooker she'd received as a present.
"You can fit a lot of things in, even if it's not food," Velentzas later said to the officer herself.
Since then, Velentzas and Siddiqui—who lived together in New York City—were frequently in contact with Al Qaeda operatives, the feds alleged in a criminal complaint Thursday. In a poem Siddiqui allegedly penned for a Saudi Arabian magazine called _Jihad Reflections—_the predecessor to the now well-known al Qaeda publication _Inspire—_she reflects on dropping bombs while riding a hammock, and hitting "cloud nine with the smell of turpentine, nations wiped clean of filthy shrines."
Velentzas even had Osama bin Laden, whom she considered an inspiration, as her phone's background photo. She once pulled a knife from her bra, showing Siddiqui how to stab someone, in case things went astray.
"Why can't we be some real bad bitches?" she asked.
On Tuesday, the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force arrested Noelle Velentzas and Asia Siddiqui—who went by "Najma Samaa" and "Murdiyyah"—at their apartment in Jamaica, Queens, on charges of conspiracy to construct and detonate a weapon of mass destruction. The news came just weeks after three men allegedly affiliated with the Islamic State were arrested in Brooklyn after making threats to assassinate President Obama and blow up Coney Island. (Velentzas and Siddiqui apparently did not have a specific target in mind, and expressed a preference to go after government entities rather than random civilians.)
Velentzas and Siddiqui's long history unknowingly of communicating with an FBI agent is documented in the 29-page brief unsealed in court on Monday by US Eastern District Attorney (and US Attorney General nominee) Loretta Lynch.
According to the feds, the two routinely boasted to the undercover officer about their love for the Anarchist Cookbook, the notorious manual for homemade bomb-making. Later, the pair took chemistry and physics books out from the local library, and studied past incidents online, like the first World Trade Center attack in 1993 and the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. The women had begun to collect materials from Home Depot and local pharmacies that were necessary for the explosive; while carrying Miracle Gro fertilizer, Velentzas winked at the undercover officer when she said it was for her plant. Miracle Gro, as explained in the brief, contains incendiary ingredients.
"As alleged, the defendants in this case carefully studied how to construct an explosive device to launch an attack on the homeland," Lynch said in a statement. "We remain firm in our resolve to hold accountable anyone who would seek to terrorize the American people, whether by traveling abroad to commit attacks overseas or by plotting here at home."
The brief offers an incomplete picture, however. Right from the beginning, the duo is discussing the bomb, so it's hard to pinpoint when the FBI agent first started tracking them, or to exactly what the agent's role was throughout all of this. As Ramzi Kassam wrote for VICE after the February arrests in Brooklyn, these are vital pieces of information to keep in mind when hearing about a foiled terrorist plot.
In the Brooklyn case, the FBI agent was much more of an instigator, offering to process travel documents for a trip to Syria and even helping one man fill out paperwork. But in this latest Queens case, the undercover officer appears to simply stand by and observe what the two women are concocting. Occasionally, the agent brings over the latest copy of Inspire and asks them about current events involving other accused terrorists. In one case, the agent sees the propane tanks Velentzas bought in her basement, and says, "Yo, she got everything. This is like the Home Depot." Earlier, Velentzas and the undercover had debated what was better, nitroglycerin or potassium chloride.
Eventually, after being stopped by federal agents at LaGuardia Airport in July, the two grew suspicious of the undercover agent, and begin digging up articles on how to detect an undercover officer. At one point, Velentzas stripped the SIM card out of the undercover's phone, suggesting she was concerned about surveillance. The last recorded interaction between the three parties was on March 22, when Velentzas told the officer she was confused as to why some people decided to join jihad overseas when there were ways of "pleasing Allah" right here in the US.
Just nine days later, she and Siddiqui were in handcuffs.
The two are set to appear in court on Thursday afternoon. In the next few days, more information is sure to surface about these two women. But for now, the only real, direct motive we have is from Velentzas, who ruminated on her future at one point to the individual who would later help arrest her.
"I might get old here and be able to put a lot of people onto wisdom and reason, or I'm going to be in solitary confinement, and get raped or tortured, or I'm going to be killed in the street," she allegedly said. "That is your future in America."
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