As authorities tell it, Colleen R. LaRose wasn’t joking on June 20, 2008, when she posted a comment on YouTube using the screen name “JihadJane” and saying that she was “desperate to do something somehow to help” suffering Muslims.
Instead, LaRose, 46, formerly of Pennsburg, Montgomery County, and a U.S. citizen, was about to embark on a plot to recruit terrorists and commit murder in Sweden, according to federal prosecutors.
Authorities unsealed an indictment yesterday alleging that LaRose and five unindicted co-conspirators recruited men and women over the Internet to be terrorists in South Asia and Europe and to finance terrorism.
A Department of Justice spokesman wouldn’t confirm that the case was related to a group of people arrested in Ireland earlier yesterday on suspicion of plotting against a Swedish cartoonist 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 in Ireland.
LaRose, also known as “Fatima LaRose,” was arrested in Philadelphia by the FBI on Oct. 15, and appeared before a federal magistrate the next day and agreed to pretrial detention.
She did not enter a plea, but U.S. Attorney Michael Levy said he expects LaRose to be arraigned soon.
LaRose has been charged with conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, conspiracy to kill in a foreign country, making false statements to the FBI and attempted identity theft.
If convicted of all charges, LaRose could potentially face life behind bars, authorities said.
Levy said there were “many parts” to the ongoing investigation, but he would not comment further.
The indictment said LaRose and her alleged co-conspirators used online messages to establish relationships with one another and to communicate about their plans, which included martyring themselves, soliciting funds and passports for terrorists and skirting travel restrictions to promote terrorism.
David Kris, assistant attorney general for national security, said the indictment against LaRose “underscores the evolving nature of the threat we face.”
And the threat, as laid out in the indictment, is that terrorists will even use suburban American women to further their aims.
JihadJane, an American woman, faces terrorism charges
A petite, blond-haired, blue-eyed high school dropout who allegedly used the nickname JihadJane was identified Tuesday as an alleged terrorist intent on recruiting others to her cause, as federal prosecutors unsealed criminal charges that could send her to prison for life.
Colleen Renee LaRose, 46, has been quietly held in U.S. custody since October on suspicions that she provided material support to terrorists and traveled to Sweden to launch an attack, according to federal officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case is continuing to unfold.
LaRose, who lived in suburban Philadelphia, allegedly recruited men and women in the United States, Europe and South Asia to “wage violent jihad,” according to an indictment issued in Pennsylvania. She fueled her interests on the Internet over the past few years and used Web sites such as YouTube to post increasingly agitated messages, the court papers said.
As an American citizen whose appearance and passport allowed her to blend into Western society, LaRose represents one of the worst fears of intelligence and FBI analysts focused on identifying terrorist threats. She is one of only a handful of women to be charged with terrorism offenses in the United States, national security experts said.