WASHINGTON – Using e-mail, YouTube videos, phony travel documents and a burning desire to kill “or die trying,” a middle-aged American woman from Pennsylvania helped recruit a network for suicide attacks and other terrorist strikes in Europe and Asia, according to a federal grand jury indictment unsealed Tuesday.
Colleen R. LaRose, who dubbed herself “Jihad Jane,” was so intent on waging jihad, authorities said, that she traveled to Sweden to kill an artist in a way that would frighten “the whole Kufar (nonbeliever) world.”
With blond hair and green eyes, the 46-year-old woman bragged that she could go anywhere undetected, allegedly boasting in one e-mail that it was “an honour & great pleasure to die or kill for” jihad.
“Only death will stop me here that I am so close to the target!” she boasted.
She did not kill the artist, however.
Authorities said LaRose solicited funds for terrorist organizations, helped arrange phony passports and other travel records, and used the Internet to recruit women to kill in Europe and men in Asia. LaRose was arrested Oct. 15 in Philadelphia, and the indictment against her was unsealed Tuesday.
Federal officials held her up as an example of how terrorists sometimes boldly operate inside the United States, fearless of the world watching them on the Internet.
“A woman from suburban America agreed to carry out murder overseas and to provide material support to terrorists,” said David Kris, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s National Security Division. That, he stressed, “underscores the evolving nature of the threat we face.”
Michael L. Levy, the U.S. attorney in Philadelphia, said the case shows “the use terrorists can and do make” of communicating through e-mails and videos around the world.” He called LaRose “yet another very real danger lurking on the Internet.”
The other danger, authorities said, is that radical jihadists are increasingly turning to homegrown U.S. citizens to carry out their plots. “Terrorists are looking for Americans to join them in their cause,” Levy said, adding that LaRose “shatters any lingering thought that we can spot a terrorist based on appearance.”
But her alleged motivation was not completely clear.
“She appeared to be one of those people who spend a lot of time online and go to all these radical Web sites and chat rooms,” said one source.
Officials said she began to respond to Internet requests from conspirators abroad and to take a leading role in ongoing plots. They said she stole one person’s U.S. passport and “transferred or attempted to transfer it in an effort to facilitate an act of international terrorism.”
The indictment, which also mentioned but did not identify five unindicted co-conspirators, said that LaRose first came to the attention of the FBI in June 2008 when she posted a comment on YouTube under the username “Jihad Jane.” She stated that she was “desperate to do something somehow to help” the suffering Muslim people.
By December of that year, she was e-mailing one of the conspirators of her desire to become a “shahed,” or martyr.
A second conspirator e-mailed her in January 2009 about a similar commitment for Allah.
By February 2009, LaRose was telling one of the conspirators that her physical appearance would allow her to “blend in with many people,” which “may be a way to achieve what is in my heart.”
In March, a third conspirator in Asia invited LaRose to “come here and get the training” so that they can “deal in bombs and explosives effecti(v)ely.” The conspirator told LaRose she was special because she could “get access to many places due to your nationality.”
She also e-mailed the Swedish Embassy, asking for instructions on acquiring permanent residency status. As one collaborator told her: “Go to Sweden … find location (of an unidentified Swedish resident) … and kill him … that is what I say to u.”
LaRose readily agreed. “I will make this my goal till I achieve it or die trying,” she e-mailed back.
If convicted of the charges against her, LaRose could face a maximum of life in prison and a $1 million fine.
Other women caught up in terrorism cases in the United States include Lynn Stewart, a New York attorney convicted in 2005 for passing prison messages from a radical sheik to his followers on the outside urging violent attacks. And last month Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani woman who lived in Boston but was not a U.S. citizen, was convicted in New York for attempting to kill U.S. military and law enforcement officials.
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