Virginia woman charged in terror case detained

AP News
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Posted: Nov 19, 2014 5:34 PM

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A Virginia woman charged with lying to federal investigators about supporting the Islamic State militant group softly answered yes-or-no questions from the judge Wednesday in agreeing to remain in jail until her trial.

Heather Elizabeth Coffman, wearing a charcoal-colored jail jumpsuit and leg shackles, said nothing else during a brief appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge David Novak. Her next court appearance has not been scheduled.

Lawyers are barred from talking about the case publicly under the federal Classified Information Procedures Act, according to court papers.

An affidavit filed by an FBI agent says the 29-year-old Coffman "is suspected of conspiring and attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham ("ISIS") a foreign terrorist organization."

According to the affidavit, Coffman promoted the extremist organization on several Facebook accounts she maintained under various names. Those posts prompted a sting by the agent, who posed as an Islamic State backer.

The agent wrote that Coffman talked about making arrangements for a man she identified as her husband to train and fight with the Islamic State in Syria. Coffman said the man, who is not named in court papers, backed out when the couple split up.

Coffman offered to use her contacts with the group to make similar arrangements for the FBI agent and a fictitious friend, the affidavit said, then denied supporting any terrorist groups when she was questioned later by two other FBI agents.

The undercover agent wrote that Coffman listed her job and education as "jihad for Allah's sake" and posted photos of the Islamic State flag and men holding AK-47s on Facebook. One Facebook friend asked why she posted such pictures and she replied, "I love ISIS!"

John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute civil liberties organization in Charlottesville questioned whether Coffman did anything other than exercise her free-speech rights on Facebook. Coffman might be one of a growing group of people targeted by federal authorities for just "shooting their mouth off," he said.

"To me it looks like she's just out there advocating a viewpoint, and that's what the First Amendment protects," said Whitehead, who has been critical of federal law enforcement tactics since the 2001 terrorist attacks. "She's not advocating violence in this country."

According to the affidavit, she also said she got her sister to like the Islamic State and "my dad is a little angry because I got her into all this jihad stuff."

The white two-story house where Coffman lives with her parents has a "No Trespassing" sign on the front door. On Tuesday, a weathered U.S. flag fluttered in the breeze a few feet from a parked car with a "Free Palestine" bumper sticker on the back.

Coffman's case surfaced about a month after three teenage girls from Colorado possibly were heading to Syria to try to join Islamic State militants when they were detained at an airport in Germany and sent home. Officials say the girls were victims of an online predator, and that it shows how Islamic extremists have mastered social media to prey on impressionable younger women.