Jihad Jane, the Internet alter-ego of Colleen LaRose, yesterday walked into federal court, her face drawn and wearing her bleached blond hair in cornrows, orange sneakers, and her green prison jumpsuit baggy on her petite frame.
In a two-minute arraignment before U.S. Magistrate Judge Lynne Sikarski, the middle-aged woman-turned-alleged-terrorist spoke only two words: "Not guilty."
That was in response to the reading of four federal charges against her, including conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, lying to the FBI, conspiracy to kill in a foreign country (for allegedly plotting to kill a Swedish artist who depicted the prophet Muhammad as a dog) and attempted identity theft (for allegedly stealing her boyfriend's passport).
LaRose, 46, who has also called herself Fatima LaRose, of Pennsburg, Montgomery County, sparked a terrorist investigation that reached at least 10 countries.
She was not the only alleged jihadist with links to Philadelphia in court yesterday.
In Chicago, David Coleman Headley, 49, who once ran his late mother's Old City bar, the Khyber Pass, on 2nd Street near Chestnut, offered details in a signed plea agreement in connection with a separate plot to behead employees of a Danish newspaper, which published a dozen cartoons of the Muhammad that were offensive to Muslims.
In his agreement, Headley said the Pakistan-based terrorist leader Ilyas Kashmiri wanted the severed heads thrown from the newspaper office. The attack never occurred. But Headley admitted that he had gathered intelligence about Mumbai, India, before an attack there that left 168 dead.
Like Headley, LaRose may be cooperating with federal authorities, according to the Inquirer, in part to reduce a potential life sentence and $1 million fine, if convicted. Her attorneys declined to comment.
She allegedly recruited jihadists, tried to get Western women to marry them so that the jihadists could get passports, solicited funds for terrorists and visited terror Web sites from June 2008 to October 2009.
Sikarski set May 3 as her trial date, but negotiations for a plea agreement and the continuing international investigation could postpone it.
On Oct. 15, LaRose was arrested at Philadelphia International Airport upon returning from a meeting with alleged co-conspirators in Ireland. She was held on charges of attempted identity theft and agreed the next day to pretrial detention.
LaRose's arrest was kept quiet until seven alleged co-conspirators in Ireland were arrested March 9 in connection with the plot to kill the artist, Lars Vilks.
One of the seven was another American woman, Jamie Paulin-Ramirez, 31, dubbed in the media as "Jihad Jamie," of Leadville, Colo. She was allegedly recruited to marry an Algerian Muslim, Charafe Damache, the suspected ringleader. Like LaRose, Paulin-Ramirez, the mother of a 6-year-old, was a Christian who converted to Islam in the past year.
Neither LaRose's family nor ex-boyfriend Kurt Gorman, 47, with whom she lived from 2004 to 2009, appeared in court, which was packed with dozens of journalists from here, CNN, the United Kingdom, Sweden and the Netherlands.
Gorman expressed "disgust" last week in an interview with the Daily News and said he wanted to forget her.
LaRose began her transformation while cooped up in the couple's second-floor apartment in Pennsburg, a quaint, sleepy town an hour north of Philadelphia. She didn't drive and was left alone for long stretches talking with Fluffy and Klaus, two long-haired cats.
Gorman, a Quakertown manufacturer of custom parts for radio towers, traveled for long stretches, and she complained that they never saw each other. They had met in Ennis, Texas, where Gorman worked with LaRose's father, an engineer on a radio station.
LaRose, a onetime fundamentalist Christian from Texas, married twice, at 16 and 24, divorced twice, and was arrested repeatedly for public intoxication, passing bad checks and fighting.
A month after her father died in 2005, a drunk LaRose swallowed about 10 pills in a failed suicide attempt, but told Upper Perkiomen police that she didn't want to die.
While caring for Gorman's ailing parents, LaRose discovered social-networking Web sites, and on her Facebook page she wrote that her life was "boring."
On June 20, 2008, she posted a comment on YouTube that she was "desperate to do something somehow to help" the suffering Muslim people.
Amateur Internet sleuths from JAWA Report and YouTube Smackdown Corps said they had monitored her praise of the 9/11 tragedy, of al Qaeda and of her hero, "OBL," Osama Bin Laden, and her rantings to anyone who challenged her new beliefs.
After she posted an appeal for funds for terrorist activities on her Twitter account last July, a worried JAWA contributor blogged that she had crossed the line and reported her to the Philadelphia FBI.
In a July 17 visit from the FBI, LaRose claimed that she hadn't used the name Jihad Jane, hadn't posted on terrorist Web sites and hadn't solicited funds for terrorists.
But the FBI's cyber team was on to her.
On Aug. 23, the day after Gorman's father was buried, she left without word for Europe.
On her MySpace page, she posted photos of herself as a Muslim wearing a burka and a hijab on her head. She wrote online that her "Muslim bf [boyfriend] betrayed her and dumped her."
According to her e-mails to co-conspirators, she wrote that she wanted to become a "martyr," suggested that her physical appearance would allow her to "blend in with many people" and agreed to kill the Swedish artist, saying "i will make this my goal or die trying."