Accused ’Jihad Jane’ denies terror plot in court

Mar 18 2010 - 3:04pm

PHILADELPHIA -- A Pennsylvania woman accused of trolling the Internet as "Jihad Jane" while she cared for her boyfriend's father denied in court Thursday that she sought to kill a Swedish artist targeted by radical Muslims or agreed to marry a terrorism suspect to help him get travel documents.

Colleen LaRose, 46, of Pennsburg, appeared in federal court wearing a green jumpsuit and corn rows in her blond hair, smiling warmly at her public defenders when she entered the courtroom for her arraignment. The judge set a May 3 trial date on charges in the four-count indictment, unsealed last week.

LaRose was accused of conspiring with fighters overseas and pledging to commit murder in the name of a Muslim holy war, or jihad. She was arrested Oct. 15 returning to Philadelphia from Europe and remained in federal custody while authorities pursued the investigation.

The indictment was filed March 4 and made public five days later after authorities rounded up seven terror suspects in Ireland. Those suspects are linked to LaRose, according to a U.S. official not authorized to discuss the case, who spoke to The Associated Press previously on condition of anonymity.

Thursday's hearing lasted less than five minutes, just long enough for LaRose to say "not guilty" when asked her plea to the charges: conspiring to aid terrorists, conspiring to kill someone overseas, lying to the FBI and stealing her ex-boyfriend's passport.

Authorities were on her trail as early as July 2009, when the FBI interviewed her about more than a year's worth of online posts and messages, including a 2008 YouTube video in which she said she was "desperate to do something" to ease the suffering of Muslims.

She denied to agents that she had used the screen name "Jihad Jane" or had sent any of the messages recovered, which included fundraising appeals for the jihadist cause, according to the indictment.

The suspects detained in Ireland include Jamie Paulin-Ramirez, a 31-year-old Colorado woman whose mother said she began talking about jihad with her Muslim stepfather and soon spent most of her time online, according to the U.S. official.

Paulin-Ramirez left Leadville, Colo., on Sept. 11, 2009, with her 6-year-old son and told her family she had married a fourth time, to an Algerian she had met online, her mother said. Irish officials, who also arrested the Algerian in the arrests this month, later said they had released the American woman.
LaRose had left the United States Aug. 23 for Europe, though her specific destination hasn't been revealed.

Both women left troubled lives behind, LaRose having survived a suicide attempt and Paulin-Ramirez, according to her mother, an abusive first marriage and a childhood marked by bullying.

LaRose's live-in boyfriend of five years, Kurt Gorman of Pennsburg, did not attend Thursday's hearing, and there were no apparent friends or relatives there, either. Gorman has said that he knew nothing of her interest in Islam, and that she disappeared without saying a word.

LaRose spent most of her life in Texas, where she dropped out of high school, married at 16 and again at 24, and racked up a few minor arrests, records show.

After a second divorce, she followed Gorman to Pennsylvania in about 2004 and began caring for his father while he worked long hours, sometimes on the road. In 2005, she swallowed a handful of pills, later telling Pennsburg police she was upset over the death of her father -- but did not want to die, according to the police report.

As she moved through her 40s without a job or any outside hobbies, Gorman said, she started spending more time online.

Though he did not consider her religious, and she apparently never joined a mosque, LaRose had by 2008 declared herself "desperate" to help Muslims in the YouTube video.

"In my view, she sort of slipped sideways into Islam. ... There may have been some seduction into it, by one or more people," said Temple University psychologist Frank Farley.

LaRose and Gorman shared an apartment with his father in Pennsburg, a quaint if isolated town an hour northwest of Philadelphia. Just days after the father died in August, she stole Gorman's passport and fled, according to the indictment.

From June 2008 through October 2009, LaRose, who also allegedly called herself "Fatima Rose," went online to recruit male fighters for the cause, recruit women with Western passports to marry them, and raise money for the holy war, the indictment charged.

The South Asian man she had agreed to marry told her in a March 2009 e-mail to go to Sweden to find the artist, Lars Vilks, the indictment said.
"I will make this my goal till i achieve it or die trying," she wrote back, adding that her blond, blue-eyed, all-American looks would help her blend in.

Vilks has questioned the sophistication of the plotters, but said he is glad LaRose never got to him. Although she had written the Swedish embassy in March 2009 to ask how to obtain residency, and joined his online artists group in September, there is no evidence from court documents that she ever made it to Sweden.

Instead, she returned to Philadelphia and soon joined a very short list of women charged in the U.S. with terrorist activities.

Lawyer Lynne Stewart was convicted in February 2005 of helping imprisoned, blind Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman communicate with his followers; Rahman is serving a life sentence for conspiracies to blow up New York City landmarks and assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Pakistani scientist Aafia Siddiqui was found guilty Feb. 3 of shooting at U.S. personnel in Afghanistan while yelling, "Death to Americans!"

Neither of those cases, though, involved the kind of violent plotting attributed to LaRose.

Updated 3:02 p.m.


'Jihad Jane' due in federal court in Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA -- Whether she was seeking love or vengeance, or just an escape from her dreary, small-town existence, Colleen LaRose searched the Internet and found Muslim extremists eager to engage the unhappy American.

LaRose, 46, spent long days chained to her Pennsburg, Pa., apartment caring for an elderly parent. Now, "Jihad Jane" may spend her life in prison -- unless she persuades a U.S. judge she is not a security threat.

On Thursday, LaRose makes her first court appearance since a stunning indictment last week that charged that she plotted with terror suspects abroad to kill a Swedish artist who had offended Muslims.

LaRose's arraignment hearing, during which she could enter a plea, may offer clues to her mental state after six months in a Philadelphia prison.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations has questioned the religious devotion of alleged converts like LaRose, given her live-in boyfriend and apparent failure to ever pledge her faith at a mosque.

"Maybe it's not the Islamic faith that is making them do this; maybe it's just their personal demons," said Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director for CAIR.

LaRose spent most of her life in Texas, where she dropped out of high school, married at 16 and again at 24, and racked up a few minor arrests. After a second divorce, she followed a boyfriend to Pennsylvania in about 2004 and began caring for his father while he worked long hours, sometimes on the road. In 2005, she swallowed a handful of pills in a failed suicide attempt, telling police she was upset over the death of her father -- but did not want to die.

As she moved through her 40s without a job or any outside hobbies, her boyfriend said, she started spending more time online.

Though her boyfriend, Kurt Gorman, did not consider her religious, and she apparently never joined a mosque, LaRose had by 2008 declared herself "desperate" to help suffering Muslims in a video she posted on YouTube.

"In my view, she sort of slipped sideways into Islam. ... There may have been some seduction into it, by one or more people," said Temple University psychologist Frank Farley.

LaRose and Gorman shared an apartment with his father in Pennsburg, a quaint if isolated town an hour northwest of Philadelphia. Just days after the father died last August, she stole Gorman's passport and fled to Europe without telling him, making good on her online pledge to try to kill in the name of Allah, according to the indictment. From June 2008 through her Aug. 23, 2009, departure, the woman who also called herself "Fatima Rose" went online to recruit male fighters for the cause, recruit women with western passports to marry them, and raise money for the holy war, the indictment charged.

She had also agreed to marry one of her overseas contacts, a man from South Asia who said he could deal bombs and explosives, according to e-mails recovered by authorities.

He also told her in a March 2009 e-mail to go to Sweden to find the artist, Lars Vilks.

"I will make this my goal till i achieve it or die trying," she wrote back, adding that her blonde American looks would help her blend in.

Vilks questioned the sophistication of the plotters, seven of whom were rounded up in Ireland last week, just before LaRose's indictment was unsealed. Still, he said he was glad LaRose never got to him. Although she had written the Swedish embassy in March 2009 to ask how to obtain residency, and joined his online artists group in September, there is no evidence from court documents that she ever made it to Sweden. Instead, she was arrested returning to Philadelphia on Oct. 15.

Some terrorism experts wonder if LaRose posed any serious threat to Vilks or the United States -- or was simply a lost soul.

"People in distress blame the government, and now blaming the government means taking the side of these Muslim terrorists," said Ian Lustick, a University of Pennsylvania political science professor. "They're about as jihadist as you and me, but they're a lot less happy."

 

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