NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – New and disturbing details were revealed Friday in an alleged plot by two Queens women to carry out terrorist attacks in the U.S.
The allegations were contained in court papers describing the latest homegrown terror plot thwarted by the FBI and the NYPD.
Noelle Velentzas, 27, and Asia Siddiqui, 31, were arrested at their Queens homes early Thursday morning following a sting operation using an undercover officer wearing a wire. Officers searching the homes recovered items including three gas tanks, a pressure cooker, fertilizer, handwritten notes on the recipes for bomb making and jihadist literature, court papers say.
As CBS2’s Jessica Schneider reported, Velentzas’ husband, Abu Bakr, had gushing and proud words for his wife Friday night.
“I know nobody’s perfect, but she is,” Bakr said.
Bakr said he did not believe the charges against his wife.
“Yes, I would say yes they are lying,” he said.
He said his wife of six years does not have a violent personality at all.
“I want people to see her how I see her — as a mother, a wife, a friend, a confidant, a sister to the community, a daughter to the imam and the elders,” Bakr said.
The imam at their mosque in Jamaica, Queens spoke for the families of both defendants.
“My observation of the families for the last five years has been impeccable — when it comes to character; when it comes to integrity — has been impeccable,” said Imam Charles Aziz Bilal of Masjid Al-Hamdulillah.
The imam said he believes the women were set up, and that the evidence of bomb-making in their homes was all there for an innocent reason.
“You go to picnics, right?” Bilal said. “And what do you have on your to cook the meat and everything? You have propane tanks, right?”
But former FBI agent and security expert Manny Gomez said people must have been suspicious.
“Certainly, these people were not off the radar to family and friends,” Gomez said. “They must have felt something. They must have seen something. They must have known something that was a little strange.”
As CBS2’s Tony Aiello reported, Velentzas spoke some time ago on behalf of the Islamic Circle of North America Relief Agency, talking about becoming a Muslim when she was 17 years old.
She was touted as a success story after she moved from the organization’s Jamaica, Queens homeless shelter, where she had lived for a year.
On the video, she shows a sense of humor.
“I’ve had Muslims try to marry me to their relatives so that I can get them a green card,” she said.
But captured on an FBI wire, a woman alleged to be Velentzas sounded militant. She allegedly said she and Siddiqui wanted to be known as “citizens of the Islamic State,” and said, “We are living in the big war before the End of Days starts; in English, it’s called Armageddon.”
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 citing one of the secret recordings made by the undercover who managed to befriend the pair.
The arrests show U.S. authorities “are committed to doing everything in our ability to detect, disrupt, and deter attacks by homegrown violent extremists,” U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said in a statement. “As alleged, the defendants in this case carefully studied how to construct an explosive device to launch an attack on the homeland.”
The women were held without bail after a brief court appearance Thursday, where they spoke only to say they understood the charges against them. Velentzas wore a hijab and a dark dress, and Siddiqui had on a green T-shirt with a long-sleeved black shirt underneath and a dark long skirt.
WEB EXTRA: Read the complaint (.pdf)
The complaint cites a poem written by Siddiqui that appeared in a magazine published by al Qaeda 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 called Osama bin Laden one of her heroes, they said.
According to the complaint, the women “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.
And after NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were gunned down in a patrol car in December, Velentzas told the undercover officer that the deaths showed it was easy to kill a police officer, 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, it added.
Velentzas watched ISIS beheading videos on the Internet, the complaint alleges. She also visited the CBS New York website to read an article on a bill that would outlaw homemade explosives.
The complaints 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.
“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.
“Too close to home and I’m telling you, it came to my mind a couple times and I looked at them. I was like something’s wrong with this, but there’s nothing I could do,” one man told 1010 WINS’ Glenn Schuck.
“I’m not a prejudiced person, but go back to your country and do this, let us live in peace,” one woman said.
“I’m afraid now. Hearing this, they could do this anywhere,” neighbor Ajie Mamba said.
Velentzas was born in Florida, and her father was from Greece. She claimed he died of AIDS when she was young.
She worked as a home health aide.
Siddiqui was unemployed. She was born in Saudi Arabia, but had a U.S. citizenship. The federal government claimed she had a close relationship with Samir Khan, an American who became a top al Qaeda leader in Yemen.
Both women face life in prison if convicted.
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.
Al Farekh, who was born in Texas, and two other co-conspirators were students at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada, in 2007 when authorities say they started watching al-Qaida propaganda and hatching a plan to become martyrs abroad, an FBI agent wrote in a January complaint.
Al Farekh and the two others flew to Karachi, Pakistan, on round-trip tickets in March 2007 after selling their belongings, disconnecting their phones and buying mountain boots that authorities say are commonly worn by al-Qaida fighters in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the complaint says.
His lawyer did not comment.
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