Philly woman accused of trying to join ISIS appears in court

A contradictory image has emerged around the Philadelphia woman accused of trying to join ISIS.

Defense attorneys describe Keonna Thomas as a devoted mother who was cooking breakfast for her children the day she was arrested on charges that she planned to fly overseas to become a member of the terror group in Syria.

Prosecutors however, say Thomas, 30, was prepared to leave those children behind.

Those were just two of the biographical details that emerge at Thursday’s preliminary hearing for Thomas as the prosecution and the defense argued over whether she should be placed under house arrest or jailed until her trial.

Magistrate Judge Marilyn Heffley ultimately ruled that Thomas should remain behind bars, but not before both sides offered offered starkly different portrayals of a woman authorities say expressed a desire to become a martyr for her faith.

Prosecutors say Thomas lived the life on an online-jihadist. She dubbed herself “YoungLioness” and posted photos of young children dressed in combat gear.

She tweeted: “Ask yourselves, while this young man is holding magazines for the Islamic State, what are you doing for it? #ISIS.”

Defense attorney Kathleen Gaughan said that Thomas had no criminal history. She described Thomas as a second-generation home health aide who hadn’t worked in two years.

Thomas, Gaughan said, took her children, aged 7 and 9, to school every day, and shared a bedroom with them.

The accused online jihadi has lived in same house for ten years on the 800 block of N. 10th Street. At least 7 other people live there.  

Most importantly, they say, Thomas didn’t flee when the FBI visited her in 2013. Nor did she use a ticket to fly overseas on March 29, five days before her arrest.

Jennifer Arbittier Williams says that’s because FBI agents had executed a search warrant at Thomas’ house two days before she was due to leave, and that Thomas knew she was under surveillance.

Thomas’ grandmother, Williams said, even banged on the FBI’s surveillance van parked outside of the family’s home.

Two cousins showed up at the hearing to support Thomas, along with her mother and grandmother. The family declined to comment after the hearing.


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