PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A close associate of a Philadelphia woman charged in a plot to join the Islamic State group in Syria pledged to avenge her arrest with attacks on the U.S. and violence at the jail where she is held.
The associate tweeted a call for suicide attacks after federal agents searched Keonna Thomas' home March 27 and posted an image of an exploding truck with the message, "No prison door would be able to stand against the force" after her arrest last week, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Williams said.
Williams raised the threats at a hearing on Thomas' continued detention, arguing the 30-year-old mother of two should remain jailed pending trial. Williams told a judge the messages underscored Thomas' "strong and robust" ties to the jihadist community and the danger she posed if released.
U.S. District Judge Marilyn Heffley agreed and ordered Thomas, an unemployed former home health aide, to remain in federal custody.
An FBI spokesman said after the hearing Thursday the agency could not discuss specific cases but that it takes every threat seriously.
Thomas' mother, Debbie Thomas, railed at the government's case in the hallway outside the courtroom, telling family members: "They lie. That's what they do."
Thomas faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted of attempting to provide material aid to terrorists.
Her public defenders said they believed evidence would exonerate her and that she would plead not guilty to a grand jury indictment.
During the hearing, they argued Thomas' strong ties to Philadelphia — she was raised in the city and has lived in the same home for a decade with her daughters, ages 7 and 9, and other family members — warranted her release.
The lawyers said she should have been sent home with a GPS tracking device.
Thomas, who prosecutors said also goes by Fatayat Al Khilafah and YoungLioness, wore a teal jail jumpsuit over a traditional Muslim burqua during the hour-long hearing.
She did not address the court.
Williams argued Thomas had already showed she was willing to abandon her family for the Islamic State with a planned flight to Spain, computer searches for a passage to Syria and online communication with alleged terrorists.
Authorities said she communicated with an Islamic State group 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, ... a girl can only wish," according to charging documents.
Thomas bought a ticket to fly to Barcelona on March 29 and had researched bus trips to Istanbul — a potential pathway to the terror group's front lines — but abandoned the trip when federal agents raided her house March 27.
"Had the government not intervened with that search warrant, she would have been on that flight, leaving behind two small children with no warning to anyone," Williams said.
Agents placed Thomas under 24-hour surveillance after searching her home. At one point, Williams said, Thomas' grandmother banged on the door of a surveillance van.
Agents arrested Thomas last Friday at her family's town house in a public housing development. Her lawyers said they arrived as she cooked breakfast for her children.
A day earlier, federal prosecutors charged two women in New York with plotting to wage violent jihad by building a bomb and using it for an attack like the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.