'Jihad Jane' sentenced to 10 years in prison

Posted: January 08, 2014

IN A BLACK headscarf, short-sleeved green prison jumpsuit and white sneakers, Colleen LaRose, at 4-foot-9 and slightly pudgy, looked more like an elderly nun than a terrorist.

The Montgomery County woman known as "Jihad Jane" gave a toothy smile to a few acquaintances in the courtroom at her sentencing hearing yesterday.

According to assistant federal defender Mark Wilson, LaRose suffered a life of abuse that led her to travel to Europe after finding validity with Muslim extremists. He called her plan to kill a Swedish cartoonist, Lars Vilks, who depicted the Prophet Mohammed as a dog, "more aspirational than operational."

Prosecutors disagreed.

U.S. District Chief Judge Petrese Tucker did, too, saying "we should all be thankful" that LaRose's accomplices didn't have the resources to carry out the murder plot. "The court has no doubt that given the opportunity, Ms. LaRose would have completed her mission," she said.

Tucker sentenced LaRose, 50, who had pleaded guilty and cooperated with the prosecution, to 10 years in federal prison. With time served since her arrest in October 2009 and possible time off for good behavior, LaRose could be released after a little more than four years.

After prison, LaRose faces five years of supervisory release.

LaRose, who recently lived in Pennsburg, Montgomery County, told the judge she converted to Islam in 2008 and didn't take it seriously until she saw Palestinians getting bombed and got upset. "So I became more radical . . . went straight to jihad," she said.

She went online as "JihadJane" and eventually made contact with a "brother" in Pakistan.

"We decided since I did blend in with everyone else, I could get close to Lars Vilks and kill him," she said. For a while, "all I thought about was jihad," or holy war. "I was in a trance. I couldn't think about anything else."

But now, "I don't want to be in the jihad no more," she said, adding, "I realize it was wrong for me to ever take this assignment."

Wilson told the judge that Vilks told the BBC yesterday morning that LaRose has served enough time and should be set free.

He also played a video for the judge in which Ollie Avery Mannino, a former counselor at the Runaway House in Memphis, Tenn., said that in November 1980, the then-17-year-old LaRose arrived at the crisis center for help.

She learned LaRose was raped by her father for several years starting at age 8, suffered physical abuse by her stepfather and began prostituting herself at age 14 in Fort Worth, Texas.

Wilson said that after a second abusive marriage, LaRose met her boyfriend, who lived in Pennsburg and brought her to this area. During a vacation to Amsterdam in 2007, they got into a fight and it was then that LaRose "met a Muslim male," who piqued her curiosity and got her involved with people connected with jihad, he said.

LaRose flew to Amsterdam again in 2009 after getting her assignment to kill Vilks.

"After she saw nothing was happening there," she went to Ireland to meet with a man she thought would train her, Wilson said. This man, Ali Charaf Damache, did not train her, and LaRose came back to the United States after five or six weeks because her mother was sick, Wilson said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams asked the judge to sentence LaRose to "decades of prison." She said LaRose "still poses a danger." In a letter from prison, LaRose wrote about the "filthy kafir pigs in America," the prosecutor said.

Williams said LaRose, a white, blond female with "light eyes," has changed the face of who the world sees as a violent jihadist.

LaRose pleaded guilty in February 2011 to conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, conspiracy to kill in a foreign country, making false statements and attempted identity theft.

Her co-defendant Jamie Paulin-Ramirez, a Colorado mother who traveled to Ireland to marry Damache, is scheduled to be sentenced tomorrow. Another co-defendant, Mohammad Hassan Khalid - who at 18 was the youngest person ever charged in a U.S. terror plot - will be sentenced later.

On Twitter: @julieshawphilly

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