In the case of one Philadelphia woman with aspirations to join the Islamic State, retweets do equal endorsements.
The Justice Department charged Keonna Thomas, 30, on Friday with "knowingly attempting to provide material support and resources, including herself as personnel, to a designated foreign terrorist organization," the Islamic State. Starting about two years ago, Thomas—who also went by two aliases, Fatayat Al Khilafah and YoungLioness—allegedly began communicating with known jihadi fighters online and using social media to advocate on the terrorist organization's behalf.
If convicted, Thomas faces 15 years in prison.
Thomas is the third American woman in two days to be charged with a crime related to terrorism. But whereas the two New York City women charged Thursday were operating in real life, it seems Thomas's activity online tipped off investigators.
Much of the criminal complaint against Thomas focuses on her Twitter habits, detailing several incriminating tweets and retweets. (All claims are alleged until proven in court.) Here's a sampling from the indictment:
• On December 17, 2013, Thomas retweeted a message by another user that read " 'Happiness is the day of my martyrdom' - Sheikh Khalid al Husainan.' " On January 4, 2014, she tweeted, "Only thing I'm jealous of is when I see the smiles of shuhadda," which refers to martyrs.
• On January 30, 2014, Thomas retweeted a photograph of an individual carrying an AK-47, with an accompanying message that read: "Sponsor a Mujahid," a jihadi fighter.
• On April 4, 2014, she posted images of a gun, skull, and flames on Twitter, along with a message: "I need a permanent vacation that can only mean one thing."
• On June 23, 2014, she tweeted: "When you're a mujahid, your death becomes a wedding."
• By December 2014, Thomas's Twitter rhetoric had escalated, and she had begun to email with a known Islamic State fighter overseas. On December 2, Thomas wrote a message that read: "If we truly knew the realities … we all would be rushing to join our brothers in the front lines pray ALLAH accept us as shuhada," or martyrs. Four days after, she reposted a photo of a young boy armed with an AK-47. The image was accompanied by a message that read: "And if I were in Shaam," referring to Syria, "I wouldn't be pleased till I became soldier of the Islamic State."
• In February of this year, Thomas applied for a U.S. passport. The same month, she emailed the Islamic State fighter to say that she had deactivated her Twitter account in preparation for her travel to Syria. "[D]on't want to draw attention of the kuffar [non-believers] and it mess my plans and they take my pass port and i get stuck here."
In March, Thomas purchased an electronic visa to Turkey, a common transit point for people trying to reach Syria from Europe, but she never made it to either country. She had broken the most important rule of the 21st century. No, not the rule against trying to join an overseas terrorist group that has repeatedly threatened your country and its allies (although that's really bad). Thomas broke the first tenet of the Internet: Don't tweet something you wouldn't want on the front page of The New York Times.