By Ellen Wulfhorst and Nate Raymond
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Two New York City women have been arrested and accused of planning to carry out a "terrorist attack" in the United States, according to a federal criminal complaint made public on Thursday.
Noelle Velentzas, 28, and Asia Siddiqui, 31, plotted to hit police, government or military targets based on their "violent jihadist beliefs," according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn.
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It said Velentzas and Siddiqui were conspiring "to prepare an explosive device to be detonated in a terrorist attack in the United States."
The complaint said Velentzas had praised al Qaeda's Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States and said she and Siddiqui were "citizens of the Islamic State."
The women, former roommates in the city borough of Queens, had researched how to build an explosive device and had read textbooks on electricity and watched online videos about soldering, it said.
When they were arrested, agents found bomb-building materials including propane gas tanks, soldering tools, pipes, a pressure cooker and fertilizer, authorities said.
The women also voiced support for beheadings of Western journalists and others by militants in control of territory in Syria and Iraq, the complaint said.
Charged with conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction against persons or property in the United States, the pair appeared briefly before U.S. Magistrate Judge Viktor Pohorelsky in Brooklyn federal court.
Neither Velentzas, who wore a black dress and hijab, nor Siddiqui, in a green T-shirt over black clothing, entered a plea. Authorities said both women posed substantial flight risks, and they were ordered detained until trial.
Thomas Dunn, a court-appointed lawyer for Siddiqui, said she would plead not guilty if indicted. "I know it is a serious case, but we're going to fight it out in court," he said.
Velentzas's lawyer Sean Maher declined comment.
The women face the possibility of life in prison if convicted.
"We are committed to doing everything in our ability to detect, disrupt and deter attacks by homegrown violent extremists," Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said in a statement. Lynch is President Barack Obama's nominee for U.S. attorney general.
RASH OF CASES
The complaint said Siddiqui had been in contact with al Qaeda members and Velentzas was Facebook friends with Tairod Pugh, a U.S. Air Force veteran charged with attempting to aid Islamic State, a militant group that holds territory in Iraq and Syria. Pugh, 47, of Neptune, New Jersey, pleaded not guilty last month.
Separately on Thursday, Muhanad Mahmoud Al Farekh, a U.S. citizen accused of training with al Qaeda in Pakistan, appeared in Brooklyn federal court on charges he had conspired to provide personnel to be used by Islamist militants in support of efforts to kill U.S. citizens and members of the U.S. military abroad.
In March, the U.S. Justice Department said a U.S. Army National Guard soldier and his cousin had been arrested on charges of conspiring to support the Islamic State militant group in a plot that included a plan to attack a military installation in Illinois.
In another case, a Somali-American teenager who was stopped at a Minnesota airport as he sought to fly to Turkey last year pleaded guilty in federal court in February to conspiring to support Islamic State.
Also in February, three men living in Brooklyn were charged with conspiring to support Islamic State, and U.S. authorities said two of them had planned to go to Syria to fight on behalf of the group.
(Editing by Toni Reinhold and Mohammad Zargham)