PHILADELPHIA — A Philadelphia mother who admitted to plotting to travel to Syria to aid the Islamic State group and spent years spreading the terrorist organization’s message online said she isn’t an evil person before being sentenced to eight years in prison Wednesday.
Authorities said Keonna Thomas lived a double life, one as a hardworking mother of two children, the other as an outspoken online personality who spread violent propaganda, took steps to travel to the Middle East and maintained close relationships with radicalized figures, including an Islamic State fighter who prosecutors said she married online.
“I’m not a evil or malicious person,” Thomas, 33, said. “I’m just someone who, I guess, at one point, was impressionable.”
She was arrested in 2015 and pleaded guilty last year to attempting to provide material support to a terrorist group.
Prosecutors compiled Thomas’ social media postings and her correspondence with a known overseas Islamic State fighter, a radical Islamic cleric and a Somalia-based jihadi fighter to establish evidence of her willingness to support and join the terrorist organization.
In 2015, she said it “would be amazing” to participate in a martyrdom operation around the same time she bought an electronic visa and conducted online research regarding indirect routes into Turkey, a frequented point of entry for people seeking to slip into Syria and join the Islamic State group, according to an affidavit that cited a Islamic State group manual.
Thomas, who went by the online moniker “YoungLioness,” also sought to raise money for the terrorist organization, re-posting a statement from a Twitter user that read, “Did you know… For as little as $100 you can provide a #Mujahid with his basic necessities for 1 month?” A mujahid is person who engages in jihad.
But as prosecutors lined up examples of her descent into racialization, Thomas’ attorneys depicted her as woman with a troubled soul. They said she fell prey to promises of an Islamic utopia in Syria that could give her the kind of pious life she couldn’t get in the local Muslim community.
“She lost her way, in a very, very real way,” her attorney, Kathleen Gaughan, said at Thomas’ sentencing hearing.
Thomas spent countless hours between 2013 and 2015 absorbing Islamic State propaganda and became enthralled with the idea of marrying a faithful Muslim man, according to a her attorneys. And when she found what she was looking for through communications with a member of the Islamic State group, Thomas made arrangements to join him in the Middle East.
“Trust me u haven’t seens anything yet,” the Islamic State member wrote to her in December 2014 after she congratulated him for starting to train with the terrorist group in Raqqa, Syria, according to an affidavit. “U need to be here to see it.”