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Accused terrorist attended York College as student

By Sadef Ali Kully

One of the two Jamaica women who were arrested and charged with conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, was a former student at CUNY’s York College in Jamaica, according to records obtained by the Timesledger.

According to the criminal complaint filed by the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn, Asia Siddiqui, 31, graduated from CUNY’s York College in Jamaica, but Timesledger discovered that Siddiqui never earned a degree from the four-year school.

In arrests that shocked the quiet Jamaica neigborhood where they had shared a house, Siddiqui and Noelle Velentzas, 28, were accused in the indictment of conspiring to plot an attack against people or property in the United States, federal officials said.

Prosecutors contended Siddiqui and Velentzas possessed propane gas tanks with instructions from a online jihadist publication for transforming propane tanks into explosive devices, the complaint said.

According to CUNY sources, Siddiqui began at the university in 2006 and took classes sporadically until 2011. She never declared a major, had a cumulative GPA of 2.1 and had acquired 125 credits. Most of her classes were in liberal arts and her last class was in 2011. She did register for a chemistry class, but withdrew from the class.

Siddiqui allegedly shared violent jihadist beliefs, expressed interest in U.S. terrorist attacks, communicated online and wrote letters to members of terrorist groups or those involved with terrorist attacks on American soil and plotted with Velentzas to make a weapon from Home Depot materials for an attack in the United States, according to the criminal complaint.

In 2006, Siddiqui allegedly had repeated contact with members of the terrorist organization Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and around 2006 became close to Samir Khan, who became the editor of Inspire magazine, a jihadi magazine. He was killed in a 2011 drone strike.

She also wrote a poem depicting violence and martyrdom for another jihadi magazine, court records said.

In between her time as a student at York College, Siddiqui allegedly sent a letter to would-be bomber Mohammad Mohamud, who was convicted of attempting to denote a explosive device at a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in Portland, Ore. in 2010, saying he “was not forgotten in the Ummah’s efforts and prayers.” Ummah in Arabic means nation or community. The letter used the alias “Najma Samaa” and Siddiqui signed the letter as “Murdiyyah” using a York College address, according to the complaint.

Najma Samaa in Arabic translates as precious heaven and/or sky and Murdiyyah in Arabic translates as the chosen one.

Neighbors said both women, who lived on the second floor of a two-family house on Inwood Street, mostly kept to themselves and attended a mosque nearby. The area is home to hardworking middle-class families but has been troubled by violent crime.

Velentzas allegedly shared her admiration for Osama Bin Laden, killed by U.S. special forces in 2011; expressed her interest in terrorist attacks in the United States; held violent, jihadist beliefs; had an “obsession” with pressure cookers, especially since the Boston Marathon bombings; and also downloaded the “Anarchist Cookbook,” written by William Powell in 1971, to

learn how to make a bomb and to fight when attacked, according to the complaint.

NY1 reported Velentzas is married to a man named Abu Bakr and is the mother of two girls, a biological 5-year-old daughter and an adopted 11-year-old daughter.

Both women appeared before U.S. Magistrate Viktor Pohorelsky Thursday in Brooklyn federal court and were denied bail.

In their self-proclaimed effort to “make history,” both women researched numerous explosive precursors, for instance, 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, the complaint said.

Siddiqui and Velentzas are also accused of planning attacks for events such as the funerals of NYPD officers Ramos and Liu, or military, or government locations, prosecutors said.

In Brooklyn federal court, Velentzas wore a traditional black Islamic head cover and long black dress with full sleeves and answered the judge’s questions in a loud voice. Siddiqui, looking disheveled in glasses with wild hair, was wearing a green polo shirt over a black tunic and jeans as she addressed the judge in a soft voice.

The charges were announced by Attorney General Loretta Lynch, the FBI and NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton

“We are committed to doing everything in our ability to detect, disrupt and deter attacks by home-grown violent extremists,” Lynch said “As alleged, the defendants in this case carefully studied how to construct an explosive device to launch an attack on the homeland. We remain firm in our resolve to hold accountable anyone who would seek to terrorize the American people, whether by traveling abroad to commit attacks overseas or by plotting here at home.”

The women’s next court date was scheduled for May 4.

Thomas Dunn, a court-appointed lawyer for Siddiqui, said she would plead not guilty if indicted.

Velentzas’s lawyer Sean Maher declined comments.

If convicted, both women face the possibility of life imprisonment.

Contributed reporting by Michael Shain

Reach Reporter Sadef Ali Kully by e-mail at skully@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4546.

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