JihadJane, an American woman, faces terrorism charges

Colleen Renee LaRose
Colleen Renee LaRose (Courtesy of San Angelo, Tex., Police Department)
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By Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 10, 2010

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.

Across the ocean Tuesday, Irish police conducted morning raids in Cork and Waterford, arresting four men and three women who had been under electronic surveillance by U.S. and Swedish authorities. The seven were suspected of plotting with LaRose to attack a Swedish artist, Lars Vilks, whose 2007 drawing of the prophet Muhammad with the body of a dog enraged Muslims, according to Irish news accounts.

Justice Department officials declined to comment on the arrests in Ireland or on whether Vilks was a target of LaRose's.

David Kris, assistant attorney general for the national security division, said the prospect that a suburban American woman had conspired to support terrorists and traveled overseas to advance a plot "underscores the evolving nature of the threat we face."

Mark Wilson, a lawyer for LaRose at the Federal Community Defender Office in Philadelphia, declined to comment. LaRose has not yet been scheduled for an arraignment on the charges, according to a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Michael L. Levy.

JihadJane, Fatima LaRose

The path that LaRose, who is 4 feet 11 inches tall and weighs barely more than 100 pounds, may have taken to jihad remains murky.

She has been married at least twice and, over several years since the mid-1980s, had been arrested in South Texas for writing bad checks and driving while intoxicated, according to court records obtained by The Washington Post.

Investigators suggest that she turned to the Internet a few years ago, using the names JihadJane and Fatima LaRose.

In a December 2007 Internet posting located by The Post, "Fatima LaRose," who said she lived in Pennsylvania, asked for advice about how to bring an Egyptian boyfriend with whom she had been corresponding for more than a year to the United States for Christmas.

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