FBI Arrests Two Individuals for Conspiring to Use a Weapon of Mass Destruction
On 2 April 2015, the FBI New York Division Joint Terrorism Task Force arrested New York-based individuals Noelle Velentzas and Asia Siddiqui separately at their residences. According to the criminal complaint, FBI arrested Velentzas and Siddiqui on charges that they knowingly and willfully conspired to use a weapon of mass destruction, specifically an explosive device, against persons and property within the United States and, in furtherance of the offense, facilities of interstate and foreign commerce, specifically the Internet, were used. At the time of her arrest, Siddiqui was in possession of propane gas tanks and instructions for how to transform them into explosive devices. The criminal complaint further alleges that:
- On or about 6 August 2014, Velentzas and Siddiqui discussed with a law enforcement undercover employee (UCE) learning “science” in order to construct an explosive device. To provide clarity to what she meant, Velentzas motioned with her hands to simulate the explosion of a bomb and indicated in coded language she was referring to learning how to make explosives.
- On or about 7 September 2014, Siddiqui told the UCE that she and Velentzas were reading books (from a course she had taken on electricity). In a lengthy discussion, Velentzas explained what she was learning from the course books about transformers, alternating current and direct current, while referencing how to make a homemade grenade, pipe bombs, and pressure cooker bombs.
- On or about 23 and 24 November 2014, Velentzas advised she wanted to study The Anarchist Cookbook and asked if the UCE brought Inspire magazine. Velentzas spent the day discussing chemical components and the dangers involved.
- On or about 24 December 2014, the UCE visited Velentzas and brought the spring 2014 issue of Inspire magazine as previously requested by Velentzas. Velentzas spent several hours reading and taking notes on an article titled, “Car Bombs Inside America.” During this same meeting, while discussing the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, Velentzas and the UCE talked about potential targets. In a subsequent meeting, Velentzas appeared to evaluate whether a police funeral was an appropriate terrorism target.
- On or about 22 March 2015, during a conversation with the UCE about co-existing with non-Muslims, Siddiqui stated, “How do I co-exist when I’m constantly saying I’m all about jihad, you know what I mean?” In the same discussion, Velentzas indicated she did not understand why people were traveling overseas to wage “jihad” when there were more opportunities for “pleasing Allah” here in the United States, when questioned by the UCE if she had heard the news of the recent arrest of an individual who attempted to travel to Syria for jihad.
- Siddiqui and Velentzas exhibited familiarity with operational security and cautioned each other and the UCE to avoid certain activities that may raise suspicion with the government. In addition, Siddiqui and Velentzas exhibited some knowledge of multiple US-based terror plots and identified flaws and successes associated with them, to include the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing, the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing, the 2008 Fort Dix Plot, and the 2010 Times Square plot, among others.
The alleged activities of Velentzas and Siddiqui highlight the continued interest of US-based violent extremists to commit terrorist acts in the United States. They also highlight detection challenges law enforcement encounters when US-based violent extremists employ operational security measures during attack plotting. Recent foreign terrorist publications have also encouraged followers take violent action in the Homeland. Terrorist group members and supporters will almost certainly continue to use social media platforms to disseminate English-language violent extremist messages. Although we remind first responders that content calling for violence may be constitutionally protected, we encourage awareness of media advocating violent extremist acts in particular locations or naming particular targets to increase our ability to identify and disrupt potential Homeland threats. We urge state and local authorities to promptly report suspicious activities related to Homeland plotting.