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Philly woman accused of trying to "martyr herself" for ISIS

The Department of Justice announced the arrest of Keonna Thomas, 30, of Philadelphia for allegedly attempting to travel to Syria and join ISIS
Philadelphia woman accused of trying to join ISIS 02:23

PHILADELPHIA -- A woman was arrested Friday on charges she tried to join and martyr herself for the the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, a day after two women in New York were charged with plotting to wage jihad by building a bomb and using it for a Boston Marathon-type attack.

Keonna Thomas, 30, was preparing to travel overseas to fight with the terror group and hoped to make it to Syria, authorities said. Instead, she was arrested at her home, which has three small U.S. flags adorning the porch.

Authorities said she communicated with an ISIS fighter in Syria who asked if she wanted to be part of a martyrdom operation. She told the fighter that the opportunity "would be amazing," according to the documents.

A federal magistrate ordered Thomas held pending a detention hearing Wednesday. Prosecutors said they would ask then that she not be released.

Last month, Thomas bought a ticket to fly to Barcelona on March 29. Prosecutors said a raid of her home March 27 prevented that trip and any effort to join the Islamic State group.

In court, Thomas acknowledged that she understood the charge against her - attempting to provide material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization. She was appointed a public defender, who did not comment on the charge.

Thomas appeared to show little emotion as she was led out of the house in handcuffs, neighbor Ronni Patterson said. Patterson said she had seen investigators searching the home, where Thomas appeared to live with her mother and grandmother, a week ago.

The women in the New York case are accused of plotting to wage violent jihad by building a homemade bomb and using it for an attack like the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. They were ordered held without bail after a brief court appearance Thursday. The lawyer for one of them said his client will plead not guilty.

Thomas is charged with attempting to provide material aid to terrorists, one of the same charges filed in 2010 against another Pennsylvania woman, Colleen LaRose, known as Jihad Jane, and two co-defendants in a terror plot that prosecutors say also involved online messages and recruitment for overseas terror suspects.

Authorities have said foreign terrorists seek U.S. women because their Western looks and American passports make it easier for them to travel overseas.

Thomas' posts in support of ISIS started in August 2013, when she reposted a Twitter photograph of a boy holding weapons, authorities said. She called herself Fatayat Al Khilafah and YoungLioness and tweeted posts such as "When you're a mujahid, your death becomes a wedding," according to the FBI affidavit filed in the case. A mujahid is one who engages in jihad.

She soon began trying to raise money for the cause online and told a Somalia-based jihadi fighter from Minnesota that she soon hoped to have enough money to travel, authorities said.

She applied for a passport in February and on March 26 bought her ticket to fly to Barcelona three days later.

Jihad Jane got a 10-year term in January for agreeing to kill Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who drew a cartoon that had offended Muslims, while a Colorado woman, Jamie Paulin-Ramirez, is serving eight years. Both women began their involvement online but ultimately traveled to Ireland to join a terror cell. Paulin-Ramirez brought her young son and married an Algerian terror suspect there.

An immigrant teen from Pakistan who met LaRose online when he was an honors student in suburban Baltimore was sentenced to five years.

The teen, Mohammad Hassan Khalid, never left home, but he opened a box LaRose had sent him that contained a passport and money, and he sent some of the items to Ireland. He was arrested before he turned 18, becoming the rare juvenile in federal custody on a terrorism charge.

All three ultimately agreed to cooperate with authorities, shaving years off their sentences.

FBI: U.S. National Guard soldier tried to join ISIS 01:51

Thomas' arrest marks the latest in a string of ISIS-linked arrests in the U.S in recent weeks.

Federal prosecutors said last month that U.S. Air Force veteran Tairod Pugh plotted to travel to Syria to join ISIS and was arrested on terrorism charges.

Also last month, federal prosecutors said an Illinois Army National Guard soldier vowed to bring "the flames of war to the heart" of America if he was unable to get to the Middle East to join ISIS and his cousin bragged he could kill up to 150 people in a terrorist attack in the U.S.

And in February, three Brooklyn residents were formally charged with providing material support to ISIS.

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