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Philadelphia woman charged with trying to join ISIL

Woman, who hoped to fly overseas and fight with armed group, charged with providing material aid to terrorists

A Philadelphia woman was arrested Friday on charges she tried to join the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group, a day after two women in New York City were charged with plotting to build a bomb and use it for a Boston Marathon-type attack.

Keonna Thomas, 30, was preparing to travel overseas to fight with the armed group and hoped to make it to Syria, authorities said. Instead, she was arrested at her home, which has three small U.S. flags adorning the porch. If convicted, she could face 15 years in prison.

Thomas was charged with providing material aid to terrorists, one of the same charges filed in 2010 against another Pennsylvania woman, Colleen LaRose, known as Jihad Jane, and two co-defendants in a plot that prosecutors say also involved online messages and recruitment for overseas terror suspects.

Authorities said that Thomas communicated with an ISIL fighter in Syria who asked if she wanted to be part of a “martyrdom operation.” She told the fighter that the opportunity "would be amazing ... a girl can only wish," according to an FBI statement. 

It's unclear if Thomas has a lawyer who could comment on the charges. A woman who answered the phone at her home declined to comment. Thomas is due to make an initial appearance in federal court Friday afternoon.

The women in the New York case are accused of plotting to wage jihad by building a homemade bomb and using it for an attack like the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. They were ordered held without bail after a brief court appearance Thursday. The lawyer for one of the women said his client will plead not guilty.

Authorities have said foreign terrorists seek U.S. women because their Western looks and American passports make it easier for them to travel overseas.

Thomas' online posts supporting ISIL started in August 2013, when she reposted a Twitter photograph of a boy holding weapons, investigators said. She called herself Fatayat Al Khilafah (“Women of the Caliphate”) and YoungLioness and tweeted posts such as "When you're a mujahid, your death becomes a wedding," according to the FBI affidavit filed in the case. A mujahid is one who engages in jihad.

She soon began trying to raise money for the group online and told a Somalia-based fighter from Minnesota that she soon hoped to have enough money to travel, authorities said.

She applied for a passport in February and bought a ticket to travel to Barcelona on March 29, the affidavit said. Authorities would not immediately say why she had not made the trip.

Jihad Jane received a 10-year prison term in January for agreeing to kill Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who drew a cartoon that had offended Muslims, while a Colorado woman, Jamie Paulin-Ramirez, is serving eight years for her role in the plot. Both women began their involvement online but ultimately traveled to Ireland to join a terror cell. Paulin-Ramirez brought her young son and married an Algerian there.

An immigrant teen from Pakistan who met LaRose online when he was an honors student in suburban Baltimore was sentenced to five years. The teen, Mohammad Hassan Khalid, never left home, but he opened a box LaRose had sent him that contained a passport and money, and he sent some of the items to Ireland. He was arrested before he turned 18, becoming the rare juvenile in federal custody on a terrorism charge.

All three ultimately agreed to cooperate with authorities, shaving years off their sentences.

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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