The self-dubbed "Jihad Jane" who thought her blond, all-American profile would help mask her plan to kill a Swedish cartoonist is a rare case of a U.S. woman inciting foreign terrorism and shows the latest evolution of the global threat, authorities say.
The suburban Philadelphia woman, Colleen R. LaRose, was accused in Tuesday's indictment of trying to recruit jihadist fighters, and pledging to murder the artist, marry a terrorism suspect so he could move to Europe and martyr herself if necessary.
Her boyfriend of five years said LaRose, 46, had never hinted at Muslim leanings or attended religious services of any kind. Kurt Gorman of Pennsburg said that he met LaRose in Texas and that nothing seemed amiss until she moved out of their apartment without warning in August.
"I came home and she was gone. It doesn't make any sense," he said Wednesday outside his small business in nearby Quakertown. "She was a good-hearted person."
The indictment paints a picture of a woman whose devotion to the cause grew as she prowled the internet and conversed with a loose band of terrorist suspects in Europe and South Asia. She eventually agreed to try killing Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who had angered Muslims by depicting the Prophet Muhammad with the body of a dog, according to a U.S. official who wasn't authorized to discuss details of the investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity.
LaRose is "one of only a few such cases [in the U.S.] in which females have been charged with terrorism violations," said U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Dean Boyd.
LaRose has been held without bail since her Oct. 15 arrest in Philadelphia.
'Evolving nature of the threat'
Authorities said the case shows how terrorist groups are looking to recruit Americans to carry out their goals.
"[The] 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 had targeted Vilks and had online discussions about her plans with at least one of several suspects apprehended over that plot Tuesday in Ireland, according to the U.S. official.
Irish police said Wednesday those arrested were two Algerians, two Libyans, a Palestinian, a Croatian and an American woman married to one of the Algerian suspects. They were not identified by name.
The indictment charges that LaRose, who also used the name Fatima LaRose online, agreed to try killing the target on orders from the unnamed terrorists she met online, and travelled to Europe in August to do so.
LaRose indicated in her online conversations that she thought her blond hair and blue eyes would help her move freely in Sweden to carry out the attack, the indictment said.
LaRose was 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.
Killing the target would be her goal "till I achieve it or die trying," she wrote a South Asian suspect in March 2009, according to the indictment. She called herself JihadJane in a YouTube video.
Her federal public defender, Mark T. Wilson, declined to comment Tuesday. U.S. Attorney Michael Levy said the indictment doesn't link LaRose to any organized terror groups.
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 case involved the kind of plotting attributed to LaRose.
LaRose had an initial court appearance on Oct. 16 but didn't enter a plea. No further court dates have been set.