Prosecutors say 'JihadJane' deserves lengthy sentence

Posted: January 04, 2014

Despite her "very significant" cooperation in terrorism investigations in the United States and abroad, a Montgomery County woman arrested in 2009 for working with terrorists under the moniker "JihadJane" remains a danger and should spend several decades behind bars, federal prosecutors say.

In documents filed before a sentencing hearing scheduled for Monday, government lawyers described Colleen LaRose, 50, as an "aggressive, hardworking" force in the online extremist community.

Her sentencing provides an opportunity to "send a strong message to other lonely, vulnerable people who might be enticed by online extremists promising fame and honor," Jennifer Arbittier Williams and Matthew F. Blue wrote.

In their filings, the lawyers cited prison letters from as recently as 2012 in which LaRose referred to Americans as "filthy kafir pigs," and described her assignment to kill a Swedish cartoonist whose work offended some Muslims as an honor.

"LaRose's sincere efforts at cooperation do not erase the harm that she has caused, nor the government's grave concern that she remains a danger," they wrote. "The world is watching, and this sentencing presents an important opportunity to send a strong message."

LaRose's attorney, Mark Wilson, did not return calls for comment Thursday. His client faces up to a life sentence after pleading guilty in 2011 to providing material support to terrorists.

With LaRose's blond hair, green eyes, and deep southern twang, the case garnered international attention and changed U.S. officials' expectations of what to fear from homegrown extremist threats, prosecutors said.

In online forums, she spewed violent anti-American vitriol and recruited other extremists for training in South Asia. She boasted of the ability her American background and looks gave her to fly beneath the radar of counterterrorism investigators.

But even prior to becoming "JihadJane," LaRose's life had traced a downward trajectory that led one U.S. official to compare it in 2010 to a "sad country music song."

Her childhood in Texas was marked by abuse and neglect. She married at 16 and quickly divorced. And she had already racked up convictions for drunken driving, criminal trespass, and passing bad checks before coming to Pennsylvania in 2002. She attempted suicide within years of arriving.

By the time she struck up relationships with Islamic extremists online, she was "a lonely and isolated woman," "bored with her life" and with "few friends," prosecutors said. Her boyfriend, a Pennsburg man whom she met while he was on a business trip to Texas, "traveled much of the time."

However, in 2009, an al-Qaeda operative in Pakistan extended the validation that investigators say LaRose so desperately craved, turning to her to help organize the assassination of the Swedish cartoonist, Lars Vilks. His 2007 depiction of Muhammad with a dog's body set off controversy in some parts of the Muslim world.

LaRose flew to Ireland to meet up with the group plotting the artist's slaying and took her then-boyfriend's U.S. passport in the hope it could be used by one of her terrorist associates.

She was arrested in Philadelphia soon after returning to the United States in frustration over the slow pace of the conspirators' progress.

Almost immediately, LaRose began cooperating "diligently, candidly, and tirelessly" with federal counterterrorism investigators, prosecutors said in their court filings this week. Her testimony before a grand jury in 2011 led to charges against Ali Charaf Damache, her alleged handler in Ireland, and others.

Damache remains imprisoned in Ireland, fighting extradition to the United States.

Throughout, though, she has rarely appeared remorseful, Williams wrote.

"LaRose seemed to take pleasure and even pride recounting her glory days as 'the hunter,' " she said. "Her demeanor continued to grow wistful - despite the passage of time - when speaking with government agents about some of her coconspirators and their plans."

Two of LaRose's convicted codefendants also face possible sentencing next week, including Jamie Paulin Ramirez, a Colorado mother who uprooted her young son and moved to Ireland to join LaRose's cause, and Mohammad Hassan Khalid, an 19-year-old Maryland teen who in 2012 became the youngest person ever convicted on a U.S. terrorism charges.

Prosecutors are seeking sentences of less than 10 years for both. Their lawyers have indicated they intend to cite the troubled psychological histories of their clients as mitigating factors.

"The government has been cavalier and irresponsible in how they have thought of Mohammad," Jeffrey Lindy, the lawyer representing the Maryland teen, said Thursday. "They treat him as an adult. He is not."

215-925-2649 @jeremyrroebuck

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