Jill Marie Jones of Chandler, Arizona, was arrested Wednesday at the Phoenix airport before she could travel to join al-Qaida, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement Friday.
According to a criminal complaint filed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Jones was in communication with two FBI undercover agents, one of whom she believed to be a member of al-Qaida. During her conversations with the purported al-Qaida member, Jones agreed to send him money to buy scopes for rifles that would be used by al-Qaida to kill American soldiers.
In May, Jones gave the purported al-Qaida member $500 using a prepaid gift card for the purpose, the FBI complaint said.
“Jones purchased tickets to fly overseas to join al-Qaida in Afghanistan, but due to airport closures, she changed her flights to go to Turkey instead,” the Justice Department statement said, adding that “Jones planned to then travel on to Syria.”
Daryl Johnson, a former senior domestic terrorism analyst at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, says these types of arrests continue to occur in the U.S.
“Every year we see a dozen or so of these arrests where people are attempting to flee the country to be foreign fighters or providing material support to terrorism overseas,” he told VOA.
Johnson said many of these arrests are made through “sting operations” where FBI agents pose as al-Qaida or Islamic State operatives to engage with terror suspects.
According to the FBI criminal complaint, in one of the conversations with the undercover FBI employee, Jones discussed traveling to the Afghan province of Kunduz to join al-Qaida militants, following advice from an unknown contact who was in online communication with her.
A U.N. Security Council report released Saturday said al-Qaida is still active in 12 Afghan provinces. Other militant groups, such as Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), are also active in Kunduz, the report said.
In another conversation with the undercover FBI employee, Jones expressed her support for al-Qaida.
Travel restrictions related to the worldwide coronavirus pandemic didn’t seem to deter Jones from wanting to travel to join al-Qaida, the FBI complaint added.
In another conversation with the undercover FBI employee, she discussed on June 13 the possibility of traveling to Turkey and then to Syria to join Hurras al-Din group.
Hurras al-Din is an extremist group based in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib. The jihadist faction is considered al-Qaida’s Syria affiliate.
Analyst Johnson said many al-Qaida affiliates around the world have been producing online propaganda materials specifically designed to target Americans.
“A lot of Americans can get radicalized and introduced to these extremist beliefs just by watching social media sites like YouTube,” he said, noting that, “al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula has an extensive American outreach.”
Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born al-Qaida propagandist, who was killed in a U.S. drone attack in Yemen in 2011, was reportedly behind the publication of the Inspire Magazine, an English-language online magazine that sought to spread al-Qaida’s extremist ideology.
The magazine “is still available online for people to read its past issues to get ideas as it was written specifically for an American audience,” Johnson told VOA.