A Philadelphia mother of two who goes by the name of "YoungLioness" on Twitter was arrested by federal authorities Friday and charged with trying to support ISIS with money and resources.
Keonna Thomas, 30, appeared in court in full black dress with only her eyes showing just hours after her arrest. According to the criminal complaint filed by the U.S. attorney’s office, she wanted to join, fight with and die for ISIS.
The only reason she didn’t get on a plane last Sunday to put her plan into action was because federal agents spooked her two days before the flight when they raided her home, federal prosecutors argued, saying Thomas was a flight risk and should be detained.
The North Philly woman, who neighbors said lived quietly with her two daughters and grandmother, posted statements on Twitter accounts that led authorities to believe she was not only intent on supporting the terrorist organization, but also looked forward to martyrdom, prosecutors allege.
Thomas, also known as Fatayat Al Khilafah and YoungLioness on social media, began communicating with a man who identified himself as a violent jihadi fighter in December of 2013, according to the complaint. She talked with him about donating money "to the ISIS brothers" and traveling to get more money.
Posts from her Twitter accounts also included statements about dying for the cause.
"I see why the mujahideen [violent jihadi fighters] Sacrifice Dunya [life on earth] for Akhirah [the afterlife] there's no comparison," Thomas tweeted around Jan. 1, 2014, according to the complaint. A few days later, "Only thing I'm jealous of is when I see the smiles of shuhadaa [martyrs]."
Federal agents say Thomas communicated with two other co-conspirators about her travel plans and routes to enter Turkey. In one conversation on Feb. 17, a man who'd already traveled to Syria told Thomas his beliefs were so strong he'd either shoot or behead his own wife if she betrayed him. Thomas responded, "cutting head is more personal," according to the complaint.
"You probably want to do Istishadee [martyrdom operations] with me," the man said to Thomas that same day. Her alleged response: "that would be amazing ... a girl can only wish."
FBI agents say they tracked dozens more tweets and electronic messages from Thomas, who they say last week bought a plane ticket to fly from Philadelphia to Spain on March 29 after researching how to get from Barcelona to Istanbul.
Three American flags dot the front awning of Thomas' home on North 10th Street, which has been under surveillance by the FBI for the last week, according to neighbors who watched agents arrest Thomas Friday morning.
"She didn't bother nobody. She came and gone, she was always in her religion attire, you know," said neighbor Roni Patterson, whose children play with Thomas' kids.
Thomas will remain in custody. Her next court appearance is April 8.
If convicted, Thomas would face a maximum of 15 years in prison.
ISIS has claimed responsibility for the videotaped beheadings of two American aid workers, two British aid workers and 21 Christians in Libya and burning alive a Jordanian Air Force Pilot in a cage.