Two Queens women -- described by one of them as "citizens of the Islamic State" -- were arrested Thursday and charged with conspiring to detonate a bomb in the United States, officials and court papers said.
Authorities said Asia Siddiqui, 31, and Noelle Velentzas, 28, were inspired by the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings that killed three and injured 260. Siddiqui had stockpiled several propane tanks -- the same devices used in the Boston attack -- and had kept instructions from an online al-Qaida magazine detailing how to turn them into explosives, according to federal prosecutors.
Both were arrested after a search of their apartments in Jamaica, Queens, and charged with conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction against persons or property in the United States. They could face life in prison if convicted.
The duo, both American citizens, "plotted to wreak terror by creating explosive devices and even researching the pressure-cooker bombs used during the Boston Marathon bombing," said FBI Assistant Director in Charge Diego Rodriguez.
Each studied chemistry, had extensive knowledge of prior terrorist bombings, and had "implied that their goal was to learn how to blow up a bomb from afar rather than conduct a suicide bombing," according to court papers.
The women appeared side by side at their arraignment before Judge Viktor V. Pohorelsky in federal court in Brooklyn Thursday afternoon. Velentzas spoke loudly to the judge, saying: "I understand" and "yes, sir," in response to his question about her waiving a 14-day requirement for a preliminary hearing.
Siddiqui also told the judge she understood the waiver. Neither woman entered a plea.
"My client will enter a plea of not guilty when there's an indictment, and she and I will address everything in the courtroom where it belongs," Siddiqui's attorney, Thomas Dunn of Manhattan, said outside court.
Velentzas' attorney did not speak with reporters.
The FBI's investigation into the women, both of whom are Muslim, was spearheaded by an undercover agent who heard Velentzas "praise" the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and state that "being a martyr through a suicide attack guarantees entrance to heaven," according to court papers.
The background image on Velentzas' phone was a photo of Osama bin Laden with an AK-47, court papers allege, and Velen-tzas characterized the al-Qaida founder as "one of her heroes."
At one point, court papers show, Velentzas also said people should refer to her and Siddiqui as "citizens of the Islamic State,' " a reference to the terrorist organization also known as ISIS.
In December, after the funeral of assassinated NYPD Officer Rafael Ramos, Velentzas appeared to muse about "whether a police funeral was an appropriate terrorist target," the papers said. She also expressed "a preference for attacking military or government targets, rather than civilian targets," the papers said.
"They were the real deal," a federal law enforcement source said of the women, describing them as "radicalized and intellectually ready" to wage an attack.
"The only question was when," the source said.
As for Siddiqui, she once wrote a poem published in an al-Qaida magazine, Jihad Recollections, that said there is no "excuse to sit back and wait -- for the skies rain martyrdom,' " according to prosecutors.
Sometime around 2006 she is also believed to have befriended Samir Khan, a prominent member of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, investigators said. A former Westbury resident who attended W. T. Clarke High School in the East Meadow school district from 1999 to 2003, Khan later became publisher of the Web-based extremist magazine Inspire, which has served as a bombmaking guide for jihadists, including those accused in the Boston Marathon attack.
Khan was killed in Yemen by a U.S. drone strike in September 2011, alongside U.S.- born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.
FBI investigators questioned Siddiqui at La Guardia Airport in July 2014, court records show. And in November 2014 the women purchased potassium gluconate -- a potential bombmaking ingredient -- and visited a Home Depot to look at "copper wires, paint containers with the word 'combustible,' small and large metal pipes, a bag of sodium chloride, and heater fluid containers."
The women also looked at fertilizer, which Velentzas said was used to build the bomb that destroyed Oklahoma City's Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in 1995, according to court papers.
There was no answer Thursday afternoon at the Queens home where records show Siddiqui lived. Seen through windows, the inside of the house appeared cluttered, with items strewn about the place. In one window someone had placed stickers of a mosque, crescent moon and star -- all symbols associated with Islam.
Thursday's arrests came a little more than a month after three New York men were charged in Brooklyn federal court with conspiring to aid the Islamic State.
With John Asbury,
Anthony M. DeStefano,
Alison Fox, Dan Rivoli
and John Valenti