Those who saw Noelle Velentzas and Asia Siddiqui attending services at their mosque, or walking in their Queens neighborhood said the former roommates were devoted to Islam and family -- but never showed interest in violent jihad, as authorities charge.
"They have been an upright family," said Imam Charles Aziz Bilal of Masjid Al-Hamdulillah mosque on Sutphin Boulevard in Jamaica, speaking of Velentzas, her husband and daughter.
Both women, charged with conspiring to detonate a bomb in the United States, attended the mosque and appeared to be upstanding members, he said.StoryOfficials: NYC women's ISIS-inspired plot foiledDocumentsRead the chargesEditorialEditorial: NYC's alleged ISIS plot a sobering reminder
"Very honest, very sincere, very dedicated family," he said of Velentzas, 28, and her husband, Abu Bakr. "They're family-oriented. They have children in the community, born in the mosque. Good religious people."
The imam said he was surprised to hear the accusations. He got a phone call at 4 a.m. informing him of the charges against the women he knew as peaceful adherents to Islam.
"That's not what we promote here," he said, adding that extremism is not a component of his teachings.
David Isaac, 64, said he was walking his dog at about 6:20 a.m. Thursday when he saw three SUVs at Velentzas' Jamaica house. Isaac was surprised to hear about the accusations.
"A mother who took care of her daughter, normal," he said. "Very friendly, nothing political, nothing extremist. . . . If they were doing it, they were doing it on the down low."
For a time, Velentzas had been homeless, living in the street and sleeping in homes or cars. She received help from the Jamaica branch of ICNA Relief USA, a charity.
"I'm surprised and upset to hear this," said ICNA public relations director Moviz Siddiqui, who is not related to Asia Siddiqui. "We were here to help everyone, Muslim or not. We have no control with anybody. If she crossed over, we have nothing to do with that."
Fahema Akter, 17, and her uncle who lives next door to the Siddiqui home, said several families lived there.
Barbara Briggs, 59, said she often saw Velentzas walking her daughter to school. She would always wear a hijab, covering her head and body, but allowing her face to show, Briggs said. "She's always been a nice lady, appeared to be a good mother," she said. "Always seem to be happy. There was nothing to indicate nothing like that. Nothing."