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N.Y., Philadelphia arrests suggest growing female jihad

Women charged in Queens sought to play a militant role, authorities say.

NEW YORK - Two women accused in New York City's latest homegrown terrorism case may be part of what some experts say is an evolving threat - a greater willingness among women to shed blood in the name of militant Islamic jihad.

The pair allegedly wanted to "make history" on their own by building a bomb and attacking a domestic target. Just a day after the New York pair was arrested, a Philadelphia woman was accused of expressing her willingness to die as a martyr for the Islamic State group.

Though previous cases often involved women answering the call of the Islamic State group on social media to join the cause as nurses or wives, "the idea that they want to fight is more a noticeable new trend," said Karen Greenberg, director of Fordham Law School's Center on National Security.

The sometimes boastful and profane language one of the New York women was quoted as using in the criminal complaint bolstered the idea that the defendants weren't candidates for nonmilitary roles in a caliphate.

The two U.S. citizens "were determined to play an essentially military role, so that's different," said Jessica Stern, who was on the National Security Council staff during the Clinton administration and who lectures on terrorism at Harvard University. "In that way, they were typical Americans. They're sort of between these two cultures with a kind of amorphous identity."

Another expert, Mia Bloom, professor at the University of Massachusetts and author of Bombshell: Women and Terrorism, disagreed with the conclusion that more women were participating in global terrorism, citing large percentages of women among insurgents in Chechnya and Turkey. In Nigeria, the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram has begun using teenage girls and young women for suicide bombings in marketplaces, bus stations, and other busy areas.

Bloom also said that the evidence showed the American women charged last week were probably aligned more with al-Qaeda than with the Islamic State group, and that the threat was overblown.

"These are wannabe jihads that sort of have this, at least in their head, projection of importance of significance," she said. "They want to build a bomb but they don't know how to do it."

Noelle Velentzas and Asia Siddiqui were arrested at their Queens homes early Thursday following a sting operation using an undercover officer. Officers searching the homes recovered items including three gas tanks, a pressure cooker, handwritten notes on recipes for bomb making, and jihadist literature, court papers say.

Velentzas had been "obsessed with pressure cookers since the Boston Marathon attacks in 2013," and was caught on recordings saying she and Siddiqui were "citizens of the Islamic State," also known as ISIS, the papers say.

The complaint suggests the women were initially radicalized by al-Qaeda literature. But it also refers to their watching a video "in which pro-ISIS French foreign fighters urged others to leave their countries to try to fight with ISIS," and looking at a photo of "ISIS blowing up a gas pipe between Egypt and Israel."