On Feb. 14, Keonna Thomas messaged a radical Islamic cleric in Jamaica that she was deactivating her Twitter account until she landed in Syria, fearful that authorities could “mess my plans” to join the Islamic State group. Unknown to her, deactivating the account didn’t matter, as an FBI agent continued to track her online activity in which the Philadelphia woman dreamed of becoming a "martyr" and linking up with the group, according to a federal criminal complaint unsealed against her Friday.
From August 2013 to late March, Thomas, now 30, who also went by the aliases Young Lionness and Fatayat Al Khilafah, allegedly gave several indications of her wishes to join the Islamic State, which is also known as ISIS or ISIL. In mid-August 2013, she retweeted a photo of a young boy wearing firearm magazine pouches and camouflage with the caption: “Ask yourselves, while this young man is holding magazines for the Islamic state, what are you doing for it? #ISIS,” the complaint says.
While the charges didn’t list every step taken by Thomas on her road to wannabe jihadist, the first contact she had with a foreign Islamic militant occurred Dec. 12, 2013, states the complaint, when she sent an electronic communication to a “known Somalia-based violent jihadi fighter originally from Minnesota.” She allegedly told the fighter, identified as co-conspirator No. 1, that she should be “able to travel I should be getting some money soon.” The next day, she told him she planned to leave “the land of kufr,” or nonbelievers, and indicated that speaking online “about certain things is not … wise,” prosecutors said.
Yet Thomas continued to use Twitter to express her sympathies with ISIS. On Dec. 2, 2014, she wrote, “If we truly knew the realties … we would all be rushing to join our brothers in the front lines pray ALLAH accept us as shuhada [martyrs],” the complaint said. That same day, she received a message from an ISIS fighter who told her he just arrived in Raqqa, the militant group’s headquarters in Syria. A few days later, Thomas allegedly retweeted a photo of a child with an AK-47 around his neck with the caption, “And if I were in [Syria], I wouldn’t be pleased till I became soldier of the Islamic State.”
While she eventually said she deactivated her Twitter account Feb. 14, Thomas remained in contact with the Somali fighter and the ISIS foreign soldier, the complaint says. She allegedly told the ISIS fighter that she spoke with the Somali about her “travel plan” to head to Syria. When the Somali told her that she would “probably want to do” "martyrdom operations" with him, she replied, “that would be amazing … a girl can only wish,” the court documents showed. He replied, “I can make that wish come true.”
Through March, Thomas allegedly researched how she could get to Turkey, the main transit point for wannabe foreign fighters to connect with ISIS. The fighters are smuggled across the border into Syria.
During that time, Thomas allegedly bought an electronic visa for travel to Turkey and searched how to get on a bus from Barcelona, Spain, to Istanbul. On March 26, she bought tickets for a March 29 flight from Philadelphia to Barcelona, with an April 15 returning flight.
Read the full complaint against Thomas here.