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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Robert De Niro has walked off the set of Edge of Darkness
news The Godfather Part II actor has an estimated wealth of over $200m
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Robbie Savage will not face a driving ban
football'Mr Marmite' faced the possibility of a 28-day ban
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries were putting themselves at risk of tinnitus and, in extreme cases, irreversible hearing loss
health Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries are at risk of tinnitus
It was only when he left his post Tony Blair's director of communications that Alastair Campbell has published books
people The most notorious spin doctor in UK politics has reinvented himself
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in ‘I Am Michael’
filmJustin Kelly's latest film tells the story of a man who 'healed' his homosexuality and turned to God
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
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

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower