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Brooklyn again plays host to high-profile terrorism cases

April 6, 2015 By Charisma L. Troiano, Esq. Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Heavily armed U.S. Marshals stand guard outside federal court April 2, in Brooklyn. A U.S. citizen who authorities say traveled from Canada to Pakistan to train with al-Qaida in order to carry out jihad has been arrested and charged with conspiring to kill American soldiers, according to court papers unsealed Thursday. AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
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On Thursday, in two separate cases, three American citizens were arraigned in Brooklyn federal court on terror-related charges. Thursday’s arraignments are a part of a number of terror-related cases being brought by federal prosecutors and handled within the Eastern District of New York.

Defendants Noelle Velentzas, 28, and Asia Siddiqui, 31, were charged with conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction after investigators discovered the women possessed propane tanks with instructions from an online jihadist publication for transforming propane tanks into explosive devices. Muhanad Mahmoud Al Farekh was also arraigned Thursday afternoon for allegedly conspiring to provide material support to terrorists with the supposed intention of to become a martyr.  All three where held without bail.  

“My client will enter a plea of not guilty, if and when there is an indictment. I know it’s a serious case, but we’re going to fight it out in court,” said Thomas Dunn, attorney for Siddiqui, one of the Queens residents charged last Thursday. Velentzas’ attorney had no comment. Al Farekh’s lawyer also did not comment.

Since January 2013, the Eastern District of New York (including Kings, Queens, Richmond, Nassau and Suffolk counties) has arraigned, adjudicated or otherwise heard at least 14 terror-related cases; 12 of which have taken place in the district’s Brooklyn courthouse.

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts provides yearly statistical data on the business of the federal judiciary. According to the 2014 report, United States district courts commenced terrorism cases against 34 defendants, reflecting a 38.2 percent decrease from the previous year.  While the Office of the U.S. Courts does provide cumulative data for terrorism cases commenced and disposed of in federal courts around the country, the office does not provide statistical data for terrorism cases specific to a particular district court.

“It’s consistent with the profile of the Eastern District as one of the busiest courts in the country—high-active and high-profile cases,” Eugene Cororcan, the district executive for the Eastern District of New York, said of the district’s terrorism cases.

The majority of the terrorism charges levied against Brooklyn defendants are for conspiring or attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist group—primarily Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS). In January 2013, Abid Naseer was extradited from the United Kingdom to Brooklyn on charges related to an Al-Qaeda plot to bomb the New York City subways. Nasser was convicted by a Brooklyn jury in March 2015 and was the eighth defendant to face charges in Brooklyn federal court related to the subway bomb plot.

Brooklyn judges have heard at least four cases, since January 2013, involving suspected active Al-Qaeda members. In January 2015, Faruq Khalil Muhammed’Isa, 36, appeared before a Brooklyn judge to face charges for the murder of five American soldiers on a military base in Mosul, Iraq in 2009.  

“We will continue to use every available means to bring to justice those who are responsible for the deaths of American servicemen and women who paid the ultimate price in their defense of this nation,” Loretta Lynch, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District, said at the time.

According to a fact sheet compiled by the non-profit organization Human Rights First, there were nearly 500 terrorist convictions resulting from trials in 60 different U.S. district courts, and 44 of those cases were in the Southern District of New York (which stretches from Manhattan north to Dutchess and Sullivan counties). In the Northern District of New York, prosecutors have brought approximately three terror-related cases and assisted in three others since 2013. “We are smaller than the Eastern District,” John Duncan, director of public affairs for the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District, told the Eagle.

In June 2013, two men were arrested and charged in the Northern District with conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists.  The District Clerk for the Western District of New York was out of the office and unable to immediately reply for comment.

“We serve eight million people in the New York metropolitan area,” Corcoran concluded as to why the district handles a significant number of terrorism-related cases. “So, the [Eastern] District has been at the forefront in most all areas throughout–including organized crime and civil rights litigation.” 

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