An indictment against a woman from suburban Philadelphia accused of recruiting jihadist fighters online and moving to Europe to try to kill a Swedish artist is a rare case of an American woman aiding foreign terrorists, authorities say, and shows the evolution of the threat of terrorism.
Colleen LaRose agreed to murder the artist, marry a terrorism suspect so he could move to Europe and martyr herself if necessary, the indictment filed yesterday said.
LaRose, who called herself JihadJane online, is "one of only a few such cases nationwide in which females have been charged with terrorism violations," said US Department of Justice spokesman Dean Boyd.
LaRose, 46, of Pennsburg, Pennsylvania, has been held without bail since her 15 October arrest in Philadelphia.
Authorities said the case shows how terror groups are looking to recruit Americans to carry out their goals.
"Today's indictment, which alleges that a woman from suburban America agreed to carry out murder overseas and to provide material support to terrorists, underscores the evolving nature of the threat we face," said David Kris, assistant attorney general for national security.
LaRose had targeted Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks and had online discussions about her plans with at least one of several suspects apprehended over that plot yesterday in Ireland, according to a US official.
A US Department of Justice spokesman wouldn't confirm the case is related to Vilks, who angered Muslims by depicting the Prophet Muhammad with the body of a dog.
The indictment charges that LaRose, who also used the name Fatima LaRose online, agreed to kill the target on orders from the unnamed terrorists she met online, and travelled to Europe in August to do so. Court documents don't say whether the person was killed, but LaRose was not charged with murder.
LaRose indicated in her online conversations that she thought her blond hair and blue eyes would help her move freely in Sweden to carry out the attack, the indictment said.
LaRose is a convert to Islam who actively recruited others, including at least one unidentified American, and her online messages expressed her willingness to become a martyr and her impatience to take action, according to the indictment and the US official.
Killing the target would be her goal "till I achieve it or die trying," she wrote a south Asian suspect in March 2009, according to the indictment.
Her federal public defender, Mark Wilson, declined to comment yesterday.
US Attorney Michael Levy said the indictment doesn't link LaRose to any organized terror groups. He would not comment on whether other arrests were expected.
In recent years, the only other women charged in the US with terror violations were lawyer Lynne Stewart, convicted of helping imprisoned blind Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman communicate with his followers, and Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani scientist found guilty of shooting at US personnel in Afghanistan while yelling, "Death to Americans!"
But neither case involved the kind of plotting attributed to LaRose — a woman charged with trying to foment a terror conspiracy to kill someone overseas.
Stewart has insisted she is "not a traitor," while Siddiqui has accused US authorities of lying about her.
LaRose called herself JihadJane in a YouTube video in which she said she was "desperate to do something somehow to help" ease the suffering of Muslims, the indictment said. According to the 11-page document, she agreed to obtain residency in a European country and marry one of the terrorists to enable him to live there.
She moved to Europe in August 2009 with a US passport stolen from a male friend and intended to give it to one of her "brothers," the indictment said. She hoped to "live and train with jihadists and to find and kill" the targeted artist, it said.
LaRose also agreed to provide financial help to her coconspirators in Asia and Europe, the indictment charged.
LaRose had an initial court appearance on 16 October but didn't enter a plea. No further court dates have been set.