By Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 10, 2010; A01
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.
Months later, the indictment said, "JihadJane" described herself in a June 2008 YouTube posting as "desperate to do something somehow to help" suffering Muslims.
LaRose allegedly went on to recruit others, asking whether the prospects were European citizens who could travel freely. She looked for recruits whose physical appearance would "blend in with many people" and go undetected in Europe and the United States. She allegedly agreed to marry one co-conspirator in an effort to ease his path to Europe, according to e-mails cited in the indictment.
By March 2009, LaRose had reached out to the Swedish Embassy for information about how to acquire permanent residency in Sweden. The man identified as her potential fiance sent her instructions to "go to sweden . . . find location of" the target and "kill him . . . this is what i say to u."
LaRose allegedly responded, "i agree that it is good i blend in."An FBI interview
FBI agents interviewed LaRose in July 2009 in Pennsylvania, where she told them that she had not solicited money for terrorism or posted on a terrorist Web site, according to the indictment, nor used the handle "JihadJane."
In August, LaRose removed and hid the hard drive from her home computer, authorities said. The same day, she traveled to Sweden "with the intent to live and train with jihadists, and to find and kill" her target, the indictment said. LaRose took with her the U.S. passport of a man identified only as "K.G.," with whom she lived, to give it to "the brothers," the indictment said.
In September, she performed online searches to find her target, joined an electronic community that he hosted and journeyed to his artists' enclave in Sweden, the indictment said. By Sept. 30, LaRose e-mailed the man identified as her fiance, saying it would be "an honour & great pleasure to die or kill for" him and asserting that "only death will stop me here that i am so close to the target!"
LaRose ultimately returned to the United States, where she was charged in October in a criminal complaint with helping transfer a U.S. passport belonging to K.G. She appeared in court in Pennsylvania on Oct. 16, where she was appointed a public defender, according to a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney and a representative in the public defender's office.
Authorities declined to address Tuesday why the grand jury indictment of LaRose remained under seal for so long and whether she may have helped law enforcement during her months-long incarceration.
But the Justice Department has used such a strategy in several cases to glean more intelligence information on suspects and plots before making their investigations public, veterans of the department said. Spokesman Dean Boyd said "there were investigative activities we had to protect, and had the case been made public . . . those activities could have been jeopardized."
J. Patrick Rowan, former chief of the Justice Department's national security division, said the LaRose indictment is "another indication of how the threats come from all directions."
"If nothing else, it's another reminder to the FBI of the obligation to run down every lead and every threat, because they can't be too far-fetched," Rowan said.
Staff writer Spencer S. Hsu and staff researchers Alice Crites and Julie Tate contributed to this report.