Woman caught in NYC terrorism sting sentenced to 15 years

JIM MUSTIAN

NEW YORK (AP) — A federal judge sentenced a New York City woman to 15 years in federal prison for studying how to make bombs for a terrorist attack that prosecutors said would have targeted law enforcement in the United States.

Asia Siddiqui, 35, of Queens, admitted in federal court in Brooklyn that she and another woman looked online for recipes for homemade explosives and shopped for components at Home Depot with the intent to bomb government targets. She was arrested in 2015 and pleaded guilty last year.

Prosecutors asked that Siddiqui be sentenced to two decades behind bars, saying she and her co-defendant “followed and expressed a violent, warped version of Islam which, in their view, demanded that they teach each other and learn how to build a bomb.”

They said Siddiqui wrote two poems and an article that were published in a magazine called “Jihad Recollections.”

“Had they succeeded in executing a bombing like the prior terrorist attacks they repeatedly discussed and celebrated, the result would have been catastrophic,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing.

The other woman charged in the case, Noelle Velentzas, also of Queens, is scheduled to be sentenced March 5.

Siddiqui and Velentzas discussed several prior terrorist attacks in the U.S. with an counterterrorism officer posing as a convert to Islam. The undercover agent had been assigned to mingle with young Muslims around the city and made recordings of the women discussing their plans.

Authorities said they discovered “tools of the trade for terrorists” inside the women's homes, including propane gas tanks, soldering tools, jihadist literature and machetes.

“Lives were saved when the defendants’ plot to detonate a bomb in a terrorist attack was thwarted by the tireless efforts of law enforcement,” Richard Donoghue, the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, said in a news release. “This is precisely the reason why countering terrorism remains the highest priority of the Department of Justice.”

Siddiqui's defense attorneys argued that there had been no specific plot. They said in court filings that Siddiqui’s role in studying the explosive devices had been “inconsequential" and that the so-called terrorism enhancement in the case had distorted the “seriousness” of the crime.

“To construct a bomb from what Ms. Siddiqui had in her basement would have required the expertise of the fictional MacGuyver, and the claim that she was going to independently build her own explosive device is equally fictional,” the defense attorneys wrote.

Defense attorney Charles Swift said he respected the 15-year sentence but added, “I still believe in the merits of the argument we made.”