|Colleen Renee LaRose|
June 5, 1963 |
|Alias(es)||JihadJane; Fatima LaRose|
|Charge(s)||1) conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists;
2) conspiracy to kill a person in a foreign country;
3) making false statements to the FBI;
and 4) attempted identity theft (unsealed March 9, 2010)
|Conviction status||Pleaded guilty to all charges on February 1, 2011|
|Parents||Cecil Wilkinson (stepfather)|
Colleen Renee LaRose (born June 5, 1963), also known as JihadJane and Fatima LaRose, is an American citizen who pleaded guilty in February 2011 to charges in terrorism-related crimes, including conspiracy to commit murder and providing material support to terrorists.
She had married at age 16 and never finished high school. After a quick divorce, she later married again at age 24, and divorced after a decade. She had moved from Texas in 2004 to live in Pennsburg, near Reading, Pennsylvania. After personal losses and attempting suicide in 2005, she converted to Islam at some later time. She is being prosecuted in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
LaRose was taken into custody in October 2009, and her arrest was made public on March 9, 2010, after seven alleged co-conspirators were arrested in Ireland (five were later released by the Irish authorities). Among those arrested in Ireland (later released by the Irish authorities, but then arrested by U.S. authorities and charged as a co-defendant with LaRose in a superseding indictment) was Jamie Paulin-Ramirez, an American woman from Colorado, whose parents say she was recruited by LaRose. Specifically, LaRose was charged with trying to recruit Islamic terrorists to wage violent jihad and of plotting to murder the Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who had drawn a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad.
She was arraigned and initially pleaded not guilty on March 18, 2010. She faced a maximum penalty of life in prison, and a $1 million fine. On February 1, 2011 she pleaded guilty to all charges against her.
LaRose was born in Michigan and raised in Texas, where she dropped out of school before attending high school. She was briefly married at the age of 16 to Sheldon Barnum, who was 32 at the time. She later married Rodolfo "Rudy" Cavazos in 1988, when she was 24 years old; the marriage ended in divorce ten years later in 1998. She lived in several Texas towns, including San Angelo; Corpus Christi (which she moved to in 1999); Round Rock; and Ferris (in the early 2000s).
She moved to the Philadelphia area in 2004 to live with her new boyfriend Kurt Gorman, whom she had met in Ennis, Texas, when he was on a business trip. She helped him care for his aging father.
Saddened by the deaths in short order of her brother and father, LaRose apparently attempted suicide on May 21, 2005, by consuming 8–10 cyclobenzaprine pills along with alcohol. Her sister Pam in Texas had been worried about her and called 911 to alert police. LaRose told responding police that she did not want to die. She lived with Gorman for about five years. During that period, she apparently converted to Islam and became radicalized, but Gorman said that she "never talked about international events, about Muslims, anything".
Conversion to Islam
Her Myspace profile features images of bloodshed and violence in the Middle East, with messages such as: “Palestine We Are With You”, and “Sympathize With Gaza.” In her profile, she says she is a recent convert to Islam. Her Myspace profile also reportedly includes a post that reads: “I support all the Mujahideen [Muslim warriors]. I hate zionist & all that support them!”
In 2007, calling herself "Fatima LaRose," she registered a social networking video-sharing profile on Dailymotion.com. She posted copies of what appear to be attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq. On June 20, 2008, she posted a comment on YouTube using the screen name "JihadJane" (account is suspended), saying that she was "desperate to do something somehow to help" suffering Muslims, according to authorities. By December 2008, she was exchanging e-mail messages expressing her desire to become a martyr in the name of Allah for an Islamist cause.
One of her co-conspirators allegedly identified Lars Vilks as a target; the Swedish artist who had outraged some Muslims by drawing a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad. LaRose was directed on March 22, 2009, to go to Sweden, to find and kill Vilks to frighten "the whole Kufar [non-believer] world". According to her indictment, she responded in writing: "I will make this my goal till I achieve it or die trying".
On July 1, LaRose allegedly posted an online solicitation for funds to support terrorism. U.S. authorities were alerted in July by members of the Jawa Report blog, who had begun tracking LaRose's comments on the internet and her movements, including her raising funds for Pakistani militants through Twitter. The FBI interviewed her on July 17, 2009, and she denied soliciting funds for terrorism, or using the online screen name of "JihadJane."
On August 23, 2009, LaRose stole Gorman's passport and flew to Western Europe. Prosecutors say the purpose of the trip was "to live and train with jihadists, and to find and kill" Vilks. She joined an online community hosted by Vilks on September 8. On September 30, she allegedly sent an online message to a co-conspirator, saying that it would be "an honor & great pleasure to die or kill" for him, and promising that "only death will stop me here that I am so close to the target!" During her time in Europe, she reportedly traveled in London, the Netherlands, and for approximately two weeks in Ireland. While she wrote to the Swedish embassy in March 2009, inquiring how to obtain residency, the court documents do not indicate whether she reached Sweden.
Arrest, indictment, and arraignment
LaRose was arrested on Oct. 16, 2009, at Philadelphia International Airport as she returned from London. She allegedly confessed her role in the plot to kill Vilks to FBI agents shortly after her arrest, according to two people close to the investigation. Her imprisonment was kept secret until her indictment was unsealed on March 9, 2010. In a court appearance before a federal magistrate on October 17, she agreed to pretrial detention, but did not enter a plea. She was kept in custody in Philadelphia without bail until her indictment was unsealed, to protect another investigation.
The indictment of LaRose charged that she linked up with militants outside the U.S. through the internet, and plotted to carry out a murder. It said that she and five unindicted co-conspirators (in South Asia, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, and the U.S.) recruited men and women over the internet to wage jihad and be terrorists in South Asia and Europe and to finance terrorism. She was charged with conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, conspiracy to kill in a foreign country, making false statements to the FBI, and attempted identity theft. Swedish authorities said they were aware of the arrest before it happened.
LaRose was arraigned on March 18, 2010, and pleaded not guilty to all four counts. United States magistrate judge Lynne Sitarski set her trial date for May 3, 2010; during the interim she remained in federal custody. If convicted, she faced a maximum penalty of life in prison, and a $1 million fine. On February 1, 2011 LaRose changed her plea to all charges.
The same day as the unsealing of LaRose's indictment, four men and three women in their 20s and 40s were arrested in Waterford and Cork, Ireland, with regard to an alleged plot to assassinate Vilks. Gardai close to the investigation said those arrested were foreign-born Irish residents.
They reportedly included three Algerians (two of them a married couple), a Croatian (a Muslim convert), a Palestinian, a Libyan, and a U.S. national—Jamie Paulin-Ramirez. By March 15, only two of the seven, an Algerian and a Libyan, were being kept in custody and charged, though lawyers said charges against the other five were also possible. The Algerian, Ali Charaf Damache, aka Theblackflag, a 10-year resident of Ireland, was suspected of being the group’s leader, and the Libyan, Abdul Salam al-Jahani, were both ordered held without bail.
LaRose had online discussions with at least one of the suspects apprehended in Ireland regarding her plans, according to a U.S. official. Her main contact in Ireland was believed to be Damache, who lived in Waterford with Paulin-Ramirez. Gardai believe LaRose visited Ireland in 2009 to enlist and aid those involved.
The Garda Síochána were alerted by the FBI in October 2009 about the Irish link to the alleged murder plot, and a Garda investigation was put in place to covertly gather as much information as possible on the Irish-based suspects. Garda said that throughout the investigation they worked closely with law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and in a number of European countries. The charges against LaRose were reportedly related to the Irish investigation.
LaRose was the only American woman in recent years to have been charged in the U.S. with terrorist violations and attempting to foment a terror conspiracy to kill someone overseas. Some terrorism experts pointed to LaRose's apparent mental instability, arguing she was an anomaly and not representative of a trend towards women jihadists.
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