Wednesday, March 10, 2010
By Nathan Gorenstein and John Shiffman, Philadelphia Inquirer
Agence France Presse/Getty ImagesColleen R. LaRose, also known as "Jihad Jane."PHILADELPHIA --She has an American passport, so Colleen R. LaRose of Montgomery County, who called herself "JihadJane" online, decided that she was an ideal candidate to carry out a terrorist attack in Sweden, federal prosecutors alleged Tuesday.
The target was artist Lars Vilks, who in 2007 drew a portrait of Muhammad to test "the limits" of artistic expression. The result was a series of death threats, culminating Tuesday in the indictment of Ms. LaRose, 46, for conspiring to provide support to Islamic terrorists with whom she allegedly plotted to kill the Swedish artist.
Only a few American women have been indicted on terrorism charges. National security officials have feared for some time that Islamic terrorists could recruit Western women to carry out attacks.
Ms. LaRose was arrested last October, but her incarceration was kept secret until her indictment was unsealed Tuesday afternoon. U.S. and foreign governments used the time to sweep up a terrorist network in Ireland, according to news media there. The Irish Times said seven men, most of them from various Islamic nations, were arrested as part of a plot to murder Mr. Vilks.
Two U.S. officials told the Inquirer that the charges against Ms. LaRose were connected to that investigation. According to prosecutors, Ms. LaRose flew to Europe last Aug. 23 "with the intent to live and train with jihadists, and to find and kill" the Swedish artist.
Her European travels have not been disclosed. She was arrested Oct. 16 at Philadelphia International Airport when she stepped off a plane from Europe. Her Internet postings sympathetic to radical jihad [violent holy war] had attracted FBI attention.
U.S. officials described Ms. LaRose as Caucasian and slightly built. Divorced and with no known occupation, she had lived in Texas before moving to the Philadelphia area in 2004. Ms. LaRose's public defender, Mark T. Wilson, declined to comment.
When FBI agents started their investigation, Ms. LaRose lived in a Pennsburg apartment building, attached to a post office.
The indictment says that in June 2008, she posted a YouTube video identifying herself as "JihadJane" and saying she was "desperate to do something somehow to help" the Muslim people. She also used the screen name "Fatima LaRose."
By January 2009, she was in contact with South Asian and European jihadist sympathizers, and in February, she said in an e-mail that her physical appearance would let her "blend in with many people."
Another South Asian man asked Ms. LaRose to "marry me to get me inside Europe." She allegedly agreed, and on March 10, 2009, asked the Swedish Embassy how she could acquire residence.
Twelve days later, her South Asian suitor told her via e-mail to "go to Sweden, ... find location of [Vilks] .... and kill him. ... [T]hat is what I say to u."
According to the indictment, Ms. LaRose replied, "i will make this my goal till i achieve it or die trying."
In September, apparently while in Europe, Ms. LaRose e-mailed the South Asian man that it was "an honor & great pleasure to die or kill" for him. "Only death will stop me here that i am so close to the target."
The indictment does not name Mr. Vilks, but refers to an artist who is a "resident of Sweden."
In an interview Tuesday with the Inquirer, Mr. Vilks, 63, said he learned of the Irish and U.S. investigations from the news media -- reporters had tied up his phone line -- forcing police to contact him by sending a patrol car to his rural home in Sweden.
His 2007 drawing provoked an initial controversy, which later diminished. "It was rather calm last year," he said, "but in the beginning of this year, there was a Somalian calling me on a Somali mobile phone. He spoke Swedish. I thought that was a serious threat."
That led him to increase security at his home. "I have installed a defense system in my home, and the police [are] patrolling here from time to time. And I am always trying to identify strange sounds," he said in interview with the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet.
But he told the Inquirer that his rural isolation offered a good defense. "It's not so easy to find me. You have to make a special trip, and you need your own car. I'm not so easily available."
Mr. Vilks did not draw a cartoon. Instead, he produced a drawing for a Swedish exhibit that asked artists to explore the limits of artistic expression. "People said there were no limits, and I was doubting that," the artist said, "and that was correct."
The drawing, depicting Muhammad as a dog, played off a 2007 Swedish fad of installing canine sculptures as public art in the center of traffic circles. "It's not a nasty attack on the prophet; it's more of a satire. But people have no sense of humor," Mr. Vilks said.
In Pennsburg, Ms. LaRose lived on Main Street, a mix of single-family and duplex homes.. Hers was on the second floor of a two-story duplex, with a white balcony that has wind chimes and a star hanging from the ceiling. Each unit has entrances in the front and back. A neighbor, Wesley Ziegler, 74, said most residents use their back entrances. "We have no idea who's coming and going," he said.
Ms. LaRose is among the few women in the United States who have been charged with terror-related offenses, Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said.
In 2005, New York attorney Lynne Stewart, also a U.S. citizen, was convicted of terrorism violations for passing prison messages from Omar Abdel-Rahman, the so-called "blind sheikh" serving a life sentence for plotting to bomb New York City landmarks, to his followers, urging violent attacks.
Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani woman who lived in Boston, was convicted last month of trying to kill U.S. military and law enforcement personnel in Afghanistan.
"It's not a nasty attack on the prophet; it's more of a satire. But people have no sense of humor," Mr. Vilks said.
not that I condone this at all, but imagine if they did Jesus Christ as a dog. It is not funny to disrespect anyones faith.