An American-born woman who calls herself Jihad Jane was sentenced to 10 years in prison Monday for a failed al Qaeda-linked plot to kill a Swedish artist who had depicted the head of the Muslim Prophet Mohammad on a dog.
Colleen R. LaRose, 50, who converted to Islam online and has maintained her faith, was given credit for the four years she has already served. She pleaded guilty to following orders in 2009 from alleged al Qaeda operatives.
LaRose, who could have received a life sentence, has given authorities significant help in other terrorism cases since her 2009 arrest, prosecutors said.
LaRose, who used the name Jihad Jane as she became involved in the Muslim online community, traveled to Europe in 2009 intending to participate in a militant plot to shoot artist Lars Vilks in the chest six times. But LaRose became impatient with the men who lured her to Europe and she gave up after six weeks and returned to Philadelphia, where she was arrested.
At Monday’s hearing, LaRose apologized for blindly following instructions of her handlers.
“I was in a trance and I couldn’t see anything else,” she said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams had sought “decades behind bars” for LaRose, arguing that despite her extensive cooperation, she still was a danger to society. Prosecutors also had pointed out that LaRose — a blond, green-eyed, white American — did not fit the stereotype of a jihadist.
“This is a sentencing that people are watching,” Williams said on Monday. “Ms. LaRose had such a big impact in the public and press because she really did change the face of what the world thought of as a violent jihadist. It was scary for people to hear that Ms. LaRose could have been radicalized simply online in the U.S.”
Defence lawyer Mark Wilson said the plot to kill Vilks was “more aspirational than operational” and that LaRose had never even fired a gun.
He had described LaRose as a lonely and vulnerable woman easily manipulated by others online. Her behaviour, while not excusable, can be explained in part by deep psychological scars from her childhood, he said.
LaRose’s biological father repeatedly raped her from about age seven to 13, when she ran away and became a prostitute, according to court documents. At age 16, LaRose married a man twice her age and later became a heavy drug user.
“I survived a lot of things that should have rightfully have killed me,” LaRose told Reuters in a 2012 interview.
While LaRose was in contact with an al Qaeda operative in Pakistan, her conspirators repeatedly bungled a plot that never moved much past the planning stages. Vilks had told Reuters that he believes LaRose has spent enough time in prison and should be freed.
Ali Damache, LaRose’s alleged handler in Ireland, remains jailed there, fighting extradition to the United States on terrorism charges. Jamie Paulin Ramirez, who flew from Colorado to marry Damache in Ireland, has pleaded guilty to related terrorism charges and is scheduled to be sentenced on Wednesday.
A lawyer for another co-conspirator who has pleaded guilty, Mohammad Hassan Khalid, has asked that his sentencing Tuesday be delayed in order to complete psychological evaluations. Khalid, who grew up in Pakistan and was an honour student in suburban Baltimore, committed his crimes when he was 15 and 16. He is the youngest person ever charged with terrorism inside the United States.
According to a November report in The Guardian, documents leaked by Edward Snowden to the British newspaper show that the FBI became involved in the Jihad Jane case after the National Security Agency intercepted communications related to the plot.
(Reporting by John Shiffman; editing by Bill Trott and Doina Chiacu)
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