America confronts its worst nightmare: blonde 'Jihad Jane'

White terrorist suspect never gave any clue of pro-Muslim sympathies

The case of "Jihad Jane" – the middle-aged woman from suburban Philadelphia linked to an alleged plot to kill a Swedish cartoonist held to have insulted the prophet Mohamed – represents the worst nightmare of US security authorities: a white, female, all-American terrorist.

Yesterday more details became available of 46-year-old Colleen LaRose, accused by federal prosecutors in Pennsylvania of conspiring on the internet with overseas-based militants to murder the cartoonist Lars Vilks, proclaiming herself ready to help Muslims and if necessary to become a martyr for the cause of radical Islam.

The picture that emerges is of a woman who spent much of her time alone at home on the computer. But although she seemed slightly odd to some of her neighbours and had few friends in the area, her boyfriend yesterday said that she never gave any clue of pro-Muslim sympathies, and never attended religious services before she abruptly moved out of his flat in August 2009.

"I came home and she was gone, it doesn't sound like the person that I knew. She was a good-hearted woman," Kurt Gorman, who makes radio station equipment, said yesterday. But two months after vanishing without trace, Ms LaRose – who used the online aliases of "Jihad Jane" and "Fatima LaRose" – was arrested in October in Philadelphia. The case was kept under seal until Tuesday afternoon, when prosecutors unveiled the indictment against her. No further court dates have yet been set.

If convicted on the charges of treason, she could be sent to prison for life, as well as facing a fine of $1m. But it was not clear last night exactly how serious a threat Ms LaRose posed in reality. She is not identified with any major terrorist organisation. Prosecutors nonetheless insist she was part of a genuine and dangerous conspiracy.

Most alarming perhaps is the fact that she fits no common terrorist profile. Ms LaRose is white, with blonde hair and green eyes. She was born in Michigan, moved to Texas and then to the Philadelphia area. "It shatters any lingering thought that we can spot a terrorist based on appearance," Michael Levy, the US prosecutor for eastern Pennsylvania, said in a statement.

According to government officials, "Jihad Jane" had targeted Mr Vilks after he had infuriated Muslims by depicting the Prophet with the body of a dog. She is said to have had online discussions about how to kill him with at least one of seven suspects who were arrested in Ireland on Tuesday. Those detained were two Algerians, two Libyans, a Croatian, a Palestinian and an American woman married to one of the Algerians.

The indictment says that from mid-2008 Ms LaRose, using her aliases, began posting messages on the internet saying she wanted to help Muslims. By early last year, she was allegedly in contact with other as yet unidentified conspirators in Europe and South-east Asia, when she declared herself willing to die for an Islamic cause.

In turn these individuals apparently suggested that she take advantage of her blonde appearance and American passport to travel to Sweden to carry out a murder. Ms LaRose agreed, promising that "I will make this my goal until I achieve it, or die trying". Later she tried to raise money online to finance the project. Shortly afterwards she came to the notice of the US authorities, who took her in for questioning by the FBI in July 2009. But according to the indictment she lied to agents, telling them she had never tried to raise money, had never used the alias "Jihad Jane," and had never posted messages on a terrorist website.

In August she travelled to Europe, carrying Mr Gorman's passport which, the indictment says, she planned to give to one of her new-found "brothers" to enable him to move to Europe as well. But although Ms LaRose searched online to find her intended target, Mr Vilks, prosecutors say that she does not appear to have actually tried to commit the crime.

In recent years, only two women have faced US charges of terrorism-related offences. But neither were involved in conspiracy plots as elaborate as that of which Ms LaRose is accused.

Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Esteban Cambiasso makes it 3-3
premier league
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
people'I hated him during those times'
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleFirst memoir extracts show she 'felt pressured' into going out with the Sex Pistols manager
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late
Lewis Hamilton in action during the Singapore Grand Prix
Formula OneNico Rosberg retires after 14 laps
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam