Mother gets jail time for involving child in terrorist training

Posted: January 10, 2014

PHILADELPHIA A Colorado woman who took her 6-year-old son to train for holy war with a purported al-Qaeda operative in Ireland was sentenced Wednesday to eight years in prison.

Jamie Paulin Ramirez, 35, told a federal judge in Philadelphia that she knew a week after marrying Ali Charaf Damache that she had made a horrible mistake. She only hopes that her child can forget the hate-filled teachings to which she exposed him, she said.

But in urging a decadelong sentence, prosecutors showed an alarming video of Ramirez's boy - draped in a traditional Middle Eastern headdress and long robes - cheerfully vowing, at his mother's prompting, to shoot nonbelievers.

"I don't want my son to think like that," Ramirez said Wednesday in an emotional plea to the judge. "I don't think like that. I'm not a hateful person."

Ramirez was the second terrorism suspect to be sentenced here this week with ties to Damache, a man prosecutors believe to be tied to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, an Algerian offshoot of the terrorist organization.

Though indicted in the United States, Damache has remained imprisoned in Ireland, fighting extradition since his arrest in March 2010.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Petrese B. Tucker sentenced Colleen LaRose, a Pennsburg woman better known by the online screen name "Jihad Jane," to 10 years behind bars for plotting with Damache to kill a Swedish artist whose work offended some Muslims.

Ramirez, who pleaded guilty in March 2011 to providing material support for terrorism, was not directly involved in the failed assassination plot. But she met with Damache and LaRose in Waterford, Ireland, hoping to support their efforts.

Ramirez would later tell investigators that Damache hid details of his plans from her and kept her around only to cook, clean, and serve as his "sex slave."

But despite plans to leave him, she stayed when she found out she had become pregnant with his child.

Prosecutors on Wednesday balked at the suggestion that her change of heart should earn her any sentencing breaks.

"Ms. Ramirez may have been upset to see that Ali Charaf Damache didn't turn out to be a nice terrorist, and instead was a mean terrorist who yelled at her son," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Arbittier-Williams. "But she still took her son to live with a terrorist."

Like LaRose, the prosecutor said, Ramirez was recruited over the Internet in 2009. Damache saw both women's blond hair, blue eyes, and U.S. citizenship as assets in a potential terror plot.

But one of the new recruits who met Damache online saw something more in him. Ramirez, studying at the time to become a registered nurse in Leadville, Colo., fell in love.

She packed up her life, uprooted her son, and flew to live with the purported jihadist in Ireland without saying a word to her family. She married Damache hours after arriving - despite never having met him before.

During the months they lived together, he would pinch and hit her son, and often took him to a nearby park for grueling physical training, Arbittier-Williams said in court.

The child would later tell authorities that all non-Muslims "would go to the hellfire," parroting his stepfather.

Like LaRose, Ramirez had led a troubled life before her brush with extremism, said her lawyer, Jeremy H.G. Ibrahim.

Married and divorced three times by age 31, she had grown up abused and neglected, he said. She found Islam while writing a college paper on it and embraced it enthusiastically. She was quickly seduced by its violent extremes.

"That is no longer part of her persona," Ibrahim told the judge. "That part of her life is over and done with."

Abdul Haqq Baker, who has advised British intelligence agencies on how to identify recent converts vulnerable to extremism, testified Wednesday that he had seen dozens of others follow a similar path.

As for the video of Ramirez goading her 6-year-old to "go attack the kafir," or nonbeliever, Baker suggested it was no different than an American child playing soldier.

"I saw that as quite a normal role-play between a son and his mother," he said.

Tucker appeared not to buy that.

"That your son participated in activities with Ali and you participated in activities to indoctrinate him into terrorism is unforgivable," the judge told Ramirez. "I hope that your son is not permanently scarred by what happened to him in Ireland."

Because Ramirez has remained in federal custody since her arrest in 2010, she could be eligible for release in less than three years with credit for good behavior. Her son now lives in Colorado with his grandmother.


jroebuck@phillynews.com

215-925-2649 @jeremyrroebuck

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