PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A Philadelphia woman was arrested Friday on charges she tried to join and martyr herself for the Islamic State group, a day after two women in New York were charged with plotting to wage jihad by building a bomb and using it for a Boston Marathon-type attack.
Keonna Thomas, 30, was preparing to fly to Spain with hopes of reaching Syria to fight with the terror group, authorities said. Instead, she was arrested at her family’s town house in a public housing development, which has three small U.S. flags adorning the porch.
Authorities said she communicated with an Islamic State group 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 the documents.
A federal magistrate ordered Thomas held pending a detention hearing Wednesday. Prosecutors will oppose bail.
Last month, Thomas bought a ticket to fly to Barcelona on March 29. She likely planned to take a bus to Istanbul and then reach Syria, according to an FBI affidavit filed in the case. Authorities put a stop to the trip when they raided her house March 27.
In court, Thomas wore a burqa as she acknowledged she understood the charge against her — attempting to provide material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization. She was appointed a public defender, who did not comment on the charge.
Thomas appeared to show little emotion as she was led out of the house Friday morning in handcuffs, neighbor Ronni Patterson said. Patterson said she had seen investigators searching the home, where Thomas appeared to live with her mother and grandmother, a week ago.
“She came and went. She didn’t bother no one,” the neighbor said.
The women in the New York case are accused of plotting to wage violent jihad by building a 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 them said his client will plead not guilty.
Thomas is charged with attempting to provide 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 terror plot that prosecutors say also involved online messages and recruitment for overseas terror suspects.
“The incentive for terrorists is (also) ... to create fear, just by that ability to recruit within the U.S. They want to show everyone they have geographic reach and appeal,” said defense lawyer Jeremy Ibrahim, a former Justice Department lawyer who represented LaRose’s co-defendant Jamie Paulin-Ramirez, of Colorado. “But when you look at who actually responds to their calling, the women tend to be vulnerable.”
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’ posts in support of the Islamic State group started in August 2013, when she reposted a Twitter photograph of a boy holding weapons, authorities said. She called herself Fatayat Al Khilafah 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 began trying to raise money for the cause online and told a Somalia-based jihadi fighter from Minnesota that she soon hoped to have enough money to travel, authorities said.
She applied for a passport in February and on March 26 bought a round-trip ticket to fly to Barcelona — a tourist destination that would not raise eyebrows, the FBI affidavit said.
LaRose got a 10-year term in January for agreeing to kill a Swedish artist who had offended Muslims, while Paulin-Ramirez, who married an Algerian terror suspect the day she met him in Ireland, is serving eight years.
An immigrant teen from Pakistan who met LaRose online when he was an honors student in suburban Baltimore was sentenced to five years in the case. All three agreed to cooperate with authorities, shaving years off their sentences.