A Pennsylvania woman who used the Internet moniker "JihadJane" has been indicted on terrorism charges in connection with an alleged plot to kill a Swedish cartoonist. Although she has yet to appear in court, the suspect, identified as Colleen R. LaRose, has been in U.S. custody since October while undercover investigations continued, according to a U.S. government official familiar with the case.
The Justice Department issued a press release that LaRose, a Philadelphia-area woman born in 1963, has been indicted on charges of conspiracy to kill in a foreign country, making false statements to a government official, and attempted identity theft. In the indictment, prosecutors allege that LaRose, an American convert to Islam, sought to recruit men via the Internet to wage violent jihad in South Asia and Europe, and also to recruit women who had passports that would enable them to travel around Europe in support of jihad.
The indictment alleges that almost exactly a year ago—on March 10, 2009—LaRose e-mailed the Swedish Embassy (presumably in Washington) asking how to apply for permanent-resident status in Sweden. About two weeks later, the indictment says, an alleged co-conspirator, who is identified only as "CC #3" and who lives in a "South Asian" country, sent LaRose an electronic message "directing her to commit murder," saying she should "go to sweden [sic] . . . find location of [murder target identified only identified by the feds as "RS #1] . . . and kill him . . . this is what I say to u." The indictment says that after receiving this message, LaRose sent CC #3 a message "agreeing to kill" the unnamed target. According to the indictment, LaRose's message added: "i will make this my goal till I achieve it or die trying".
The indictment and Justice Department do not name any of the co-conspirators. However, a U.S. government official familiar with the case, who asked for anonymity when discussing sensitive information, told Declassified that the murder plot in which LaRose is implicated is the same plot for which authorities in Ireland on Tuesday arrested seven suspects. According to an Associated Press report, authorities in the Irish Republic detained four men and three women following raids on locations in Cork and Waterford counties, on Ireland's southern coast. The AP quoted police as saying that authorities had watched the suspects since late last year, and that the alleged co-conspirators had been spotted based on e-mail intercepts and bugged phone calls. Ireland's leading newspaper, The Irish Times, reported that all the suspects were foreigners who resided legally in Ireland, and that they had come from places including Algeria, Croatia, Libya, the United States, and the Palestinian territories.
According to The Irish Times and other media reports from Ireland, the Irish suspects were arrested in connection with an alleged international plot to kill the Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks. He began receiving death threats in 2007 after a Swedish newspaper published cartoons he had drawn of the Prophet Muhammad, including one with the body of a dog. A Qaeda faction in Iraq reportedly offered a $100,000 bounty to anyone who murdered Vilks.
The Irish Times says the suspects arrested in Ireland are "not regarded as members of Al Qaeda or any other extremist grouping." Even so, the U.S. indictment of LaRose alleges that she joined the conspiracy in the hope of becoming an Islamic martyr. According to the indictment, LaRose posted a comment on YouTube using the log-on "JihadJane" in late June 2008, declaring that she was "desperate to do something somehow" to help suffering Muslims. After being contacted by an unindicted co-conspirator in an unnamed South Asian country expressing a desire to become a martyr, LaRose wrote back in December of that year "replying that she also desires to become a martyr," according to the indictment. Then, in January 2009, a second co-conspirator, this one a resident in Western Europe, sent LaRose a message also expressing a desire for martyrdom. Once again LaRose replied that she wanted to become a martyr too.
In March of last year, the indictment alleges that CC #3 sent LaRose a message asking her to invite a male fighter to "come here and get the training." CC #3 subsequently told LaRose she could "get access to many places due to ur nationality," the indictment alleges, and shortly thereafter she was instructed to head to Sweden and kill the unnamed target.
The U.S. government official says LaRose was arrested by U.S. authorities on Oct. 15 and has been held quietly since then while sensitive elements of the investigation proceeded. Her indictment was unsealed only on Tuesday, and LaRose has not yet entered a plea to the charges. A Philadelphia lawyer who reportedly represents LaRose, Mark Wilson, did not immediately reply to a request from Declassified for comment. A spokesman for the Justice Department declined to comment on or confirm the links between LaRose's indictment and the arrests in Ireland or threats against the life of Vilks.