In what has been widely described in the media as the break-up of an “ISIS-inspired” plot, on April 2nd the Department of Justice announced that Noelle Velentzas, 28, and Asia Siddiqui, 31, both of New York, had been arrested and charged with conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction. The defendants “plotted to wreak terror by creating explosive devices” for use in New York City, and the two sought “bomb-making instructions and materials” for an attack, the Justice Department statement said.
Like other recent sensational “terror plots,” however, the criminal complaint unsealed yesterday demonstrates the key role of of an undercover law enforcement informant in both formulating and facilitating the alleged plot. It doesn’t appear that Velentzas or Siddiqui actually planned or attempted to bomb any target, nor is there any evidence of discussions about how to create a bomb before the introduction of the informant into their lives.
It was only after the informant provided the pair with a copy of The Anarchists Cookbook – a manual with instructions on how to create an explosive device — that their amateurish efforts gained any traction.
According to the complaint, both Velentzas and Siddiqui are alleged to have “espoused jihadist beliefs” for a prolonged period leading up to these allegations. Siddiqui, in particular, is believed to have written letters and poems in support of extremist violence, and may have been under government surveillance since as far back as 2006, when she is said to have made contact with the now-deceased former editor of Al Qaeda’s Inspire magazine, Samir Khan. While the exact nature of this contact is not specified, it is alleged that, in 2009, Siddiqui had submitted poems online to the predecessor magazine of Inspire, entitled Jihad Recollections.
One of her poems, detailed in the complaint, appears to draw more on contemporary rap music than Islam, reading in part: “Hit cloud nine with the smell of turpentine, nations wiped clean of filthy shrines”.
Years later, in July 2014, FBI agents conducted an interview with Siddiqui when she arrived at LaGuardia Airport in New York, questioning her about her past links to Khan and online jihadist publications. Later that day, after leaving the airport, Siddiqui apparently met with the informant, whom she allegedly told she needed to go online and “delete stuff” from her email accounts.
After that meeting, the informant, Siddiqui and Velentzas began meeting regularly over the course of several months — those conversations were secretly taped by law enforcement. It is only at this point does any discussion of creating or using a bomb come into existence. In conversation with informant on August 6th, 2014, the two defendants are alleged to have discussed “science” in the context of making a bomb; Siddiqui asking Velentzas whether she was “good at science,” a question that Velentzas answered in the negative.
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