Pa. woman accused of recruiting jihadists online
Associated Press Writer
PHILADELPHIA (AP) – A suburban woman “desperate to do something” to help suffering Muslims has been accused of using the Internet to recruit jihadist fighters and help terrorists overseas, even agreeing to move to Europe to try to kill a Swedish artist, prosecutors said Tuesday.
Authorities said the case shows how terror groups are looking to recruit Americans to carry out their goals.
A federal indictment charges that Colleen R. LaRose, who called herself JihadJane and Fatima LaRose online, agreed to kill the Swede on orders from the unnamed terrorists and traveled to Europe to carry out the killing. It doesn’t say whether the Swede was killed, but LaRose was not charged with murder.
A U.S. Department of Justice spokesman wouldn’t confirm the case is related to a group of people arrested in Ireland earlier Tuesday on suspicion of plotting against Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who depicted the Prophet Muhammad with the body of a dog.
But a U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity said LaRose had targeted the Swedish cartoonist and had online discussions about her plans with at least one of the suspects apprehended in Ireland. The official wasn’t authorized to discuss details of the investigation.
LaRose, who has blond hair and blue eyes, indicated in her online conversations that she thought her appearance would help her move freely in Sweden to carry out the attack, the indictment said.
In a February 2009 online message to a co-conspirator in south Asia, she said her physical appearance would allow her to “blend in with many people,” which “may be a way to achieve what is in my heart,” the indictment said.
LaRose is a convert to Islam who actively recruited others, including at least one unidentified American, and her online messages expressed her willingness to become a martyr and her impatience to take action, according to the indictment and the U.S. official.
“I will make this (killing the artist) my goal till I achieve it or die trying,” she wrote another south Asian suspect in March 2009, according to the indictment.
U.S. Attorney Michael Levy said the indictment doesn’t link LaRose to any organized terror groups. He would not comment on whether other arrests were expected.
LaRose, 46, lived in Pennsburg, Montgomery County, Pa., before moving to Europe in August 2009, authorities said.
She called herself JihadJane in a YouTube video in which she said she was “desperate to do something somehow to help” ease the suffering of Muslims, the indictment said. According to the 11-page document, she agreed to obtain residency in a European country and marry one of the terrorists to enable him to live there.
She traveled abroad with a U.S. passport stolen from a male friend and intended to give it to one of her “brothers,” the indictment said. She hoped to “live and train with jihadists and to find and kill” the targeted artist, it said.
“Today’s indictment, which alleges that a woman from suburban America agreed to carry out murder overseas and to provide material support to terrorists, underscores the evolving nature of the threat we face,” said David Kris, assistant attorney general for national security.
LaRose also agreed to provide financial help to her co-conspirators in Asia and Europe, the indictment charged.
LaRose has been in federal custody since her Oct. 15 arrest in Philadelphia, authorities said. She had an initial court appearance the next day but didn’t enter a plea.
Her federal public defender Mark T. Wilson declined to comment Tuesday.
Department of Justice spokesman Dean Boyd said the case represents “one of only a few such cases nationwide in which females have been charged with terrorism violations.” He declined to comment further on it.
In recent years, the only other women charged in the U.S. with terror violations were lawyer Lynne Stewart, convicted of helping imprisoned blind Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman communicate with his followers, and Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani scientist found guilty of shooting at U.S. personnel in Afghanistan while yelling, “Death to Americans!”
But neither of those cases involved the kind of plotting attributed to LaRose – a woman charged with trying to foment a terror conspiracy to kill someone overseas.
Stewart has insisted she is “not a traitor,” while Siddiqui has accused U.S. authorities of lying about her.
Associated Press Writer Devlin Barrett contributed to this report from Washington.