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Prosecutors: Two NYC women arrested on terror-related charges

Prosecutors say the women were inspired by Osama bin Laden and wanted to build homemade bomb

New York City police arrested two women Thursday on charges they were plotting to build a homemade bomb and use it for a Boston Marathon–style attack, prosecutors said.

The arrests mark the third case in recent weeks involving New York residents who were allegedly inspired by the violent ideology of armed groups fighting in Syria and Iraq.

One of the two women arrested Thursday, Noelle Velentzas, has 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 a federal court in New York City’s borough of Brooklyn, names Velentzas and her former roommate Asia Siddiqui as the targets of an undercover investigation into a homegrown plot. The women allegedly said they were inspired by the acts of Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula (AQAP).

John Miller, the head of the New York City Police Department's counterterrorism operation, said the women were arrested in the city’s borough of Queens. They both were held without bail after a brief court appearance, in which they spoke only to say they understood the charges against them.

"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 actions during conversations with an undercover investigator wearing a wire, according to the complaint.

The complaint also says that from around May 2013 to the present, the women conspired to use a weapon of mass destruction ­— an explosive device — somewhere in the United States.

Siddiqui possessed propane gas tanks and instructions for how to transform them into explosive devices, the complaint said. Velentzas "expressed violent jihadist ideology" and repeatedly expressed interest in "terrorist" attacks committed in the U.S. She praised the 9/11 attacks and said being a martyr through a suicide attack guarantees entrance into heaven, authorities said.

Their arrests follow the case of three Brooklyn men who were detained in February after police found they had pledged support to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and were planning to travel from New York to Syria via Turkey to join the group. 

ISIL largely consists of Sunnis from Iraq and Syria but has also drawn fighters from various Muslim-majority countries and Europe.

Intelligence services believe that over 12,000 foreigners have traveled from at least 81 countries to fight for groups in Syria and Iraq and that about a quarter of them hold Western citizenship.

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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