Two women who were roommates in Brooklyn, N.Y., have been arrested in a homegrown terrorism plot. Separately, a man thought to be one of the highest-ranking Americans in al-Qaeda will face charges in the U.S.
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Two women who were roommates in Queens, N.Y., have been arrested in what authorities have called a homegrown terrorism plot. The women had bought some components needed to make about, but hadn't picked a target. Separately, a man thought to be one of the highest-ranking Americans working with al-Qaida has been brought back the U.S. to face terrorism charges. NPR's counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston joins us now. And, Dina, let's start with those two women in New York. What are prosecutors saying about them in this alleged plot?
DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: Well, two things are little different about this case. First of all, that they're two women who allegedly wanted to attack and also that they're a little bit older. Asia Siddiqui is 31 and this other woman, 29-year-old Noelle Velentzas, apparently also was involved in the plot. And the criminal complaint says the two were longtime followers of violent jihadi ideas. Velentzas had a picture of Osama bin Laden on the background of her cellphone and said she wanted to be referred to as a citizen of the Islamic State. Siddiqui allegedly had contact with al-Qaida's arm in Yemen, known as AQAP. And the two apparently repeatedly expressed interest in attacking the U.S., which is why the FBI and the NYPD got involved.
CORNISH: You mention one of these women having contact with al-Qaida's arm in Yemen, but is there evidence that al-Qaida actually directed them to launch an attack?
TEMPLE-RASTON: No. I mean, this looks more like two people who were working on their own. Siddiqui was a longtime friend of a man named Samir Khan. He was a South Carolina man who joined al-Qaida's arm in Yemen back in 2009. And he published their online magazine Inspire. He died in a drone attack in Yemen four years ago, and it's unclear what her links to AQAP were after he died. That's not in the complaint. But she allegedly was still very involved in the extremist world. She was publishing poems and essays and that sort of thing in a lot of the jihadi chat rooms.
CORNISH: Now, the government says they were in the process of planning some kind of attack. Explain the claims here.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, according to the criminal complaint, they were in the process of building bombs, but there was no actual target. And, you know, there's always a question - are they just talking about violent jihad or are they really going to do something? And in this case, there was an FBI undercover agent who befriended them, and the agent appeared to play a pretty big role helping them with the bomb. Now, we don't have all the details or all the evidence, but according to the complaint the agent downloaded "The Anarchist Cookbook," which had a bomb recipe. The agent bought a copy of - or brought a copy of Samir Khan's Inspire magazine, which had an article about car bombs in America. And the person that appeared to help the two women get what they thought they needed to build a bomb.
CORNISH: You talk about this undercover agent - is anyone raising the possibility that these two women might not have done anything if this undercover agent wasn't involved?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, that's always the question if you have a confidential informant or if you have an undercover agent - how much are they goading suspects to action? I mean, this is the classic entrapment defense. That said, the entrapment defense has worked exactly zero times in terrorism cases here in the United States.
CORNISH: Well, let's get to that other case in Brooklyn involving an American alleged to be a high-ranking al-Qaida operative.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Right, a U.S. citizen named Muhanad Mahmoud al-Farekh. He was born in Texas, but spent most of his life in Jordan. He's thought to have joined al-Qaida's arm in Pakistan, and authorities say that he'd been tied to the 2009 plot to bomb the New York City subway. Al-Farekh is seen as important enough in the al-Qaida ranks to have actually been considered for nomination on the Pentagon's so-called kill list of suspected terrorists. But he didn't make that list because there was concern about killing an American without due process.
CORNISH: And ended up in U.S. custody how?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, the Pakistanis apparently captured him a couple of weeks ago, and once his identity was confirmed, he was secretly flown to New York to face these terrorism charges.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Dina Temple-Raston. Thanks, Dina.
TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.