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Montco woman accused of helping terrorists

She is white and has an American passport, so "JihadJane," a.k.a. Colleen R. LaRose of Montgomery County, decided she was an ideal candidate to carry out a terrorist attack in Sweden, federal prosecutors alleged Tuesday.

She is white and has an American passport, so "JihadJane," a.k.a. Colleen R. LaRose of Montgomery County, decided she was an ideal candidate to carry out a terrorist attack in Sweden, federal prosecutors alleged Tuesday.

The target was Lars Vilks, who in 2007 drew a portrait of Muhammad to test "the limits" of artistic expression.

The result was a series of death threats, culminating yesterday in the indictment of LaRose, 46, on charges of conspiring to provide support to Islamic extremists with whom she allegedly plotted to kill the Swedish artist.

Only a few American women have been indicted on terrorism charges. National security officials have feared Islamic extremists could recruit Western-looking women to carry out attacks.

LaRose was arrested in October, but her incarceration was kept secret until her indictment was unsealed Tuesday afternoon.

American and foreign governments used the time to sweep up an extremist network in Ireland, according to news media in that country. The Irish Times said seven men, most from Islamic nations, were arrested as part of a plot to murder Vilks.

Two American officials told The Inquirer that the charges against LaRose were connected to that investigation. According to prosecutors, on Aug. 23, LaRose flew to Europe "with the intent to live and train with jihadists, and to find and kill" Vilks.

Her itinerary in Europe has not been disclosed. LaRose was arrested at Philadelphia International Airport on Oct. 16 when she stepped off a plane from Europe. Her Internet postings sympathetic to radical jihad attracted the FBI's attention.

The case was investigated by the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force and the National Security Division of the U.S. Attorney's Office. American officials described LaRose as white and slightly built. Divorced with no known occupation, she lived in Texas before moving to the Philadelphia area in 2004.

LaRose lived in a Pennsburg apartment building attached to a post office when FBI agents started their investigation.

The indictment says that in June 2008, she posted a YouTube video as JihadJane saying she was "desperate to do something somehow to help" the Muslim people. She also used the screen name Fatima LaRose.

By January 2009, she was in contact with South Asian and European jihadist sympathizers, and in February she wrote in an e-mail that her physical appearance would let her "blend in with many people." A South Asian man asked LaRose to "marry me to get me inside Europe."

LaRose allegedly agreed, and on March 10, 2009, asked the Swedish Embassy how she could acquire residence.

Twelve days later her South Asian suitor told her via e-mail to "go to Sweden . . . find location of [Vilks] . . . and kill him . . . that is what I say to u."

According to the indictment, LaRose replied: "i will make this my goal till i achieve it or die trying."

LaRose had a difficult time finding money for the trip, however. In July, an accomplice posted an online appeal for money.

In September, apparently when she was in Europe, LaRose e-mailed the South Asian man that it as "an honor & great pleasure to die or kill" for him. "Only death will stop me here that i am so close to the target."

The indictment does not name Vilks but refers to an artist who is a "resident of Sweden"

In an interview with The Inquirer, Vilks, 63, said he learned of the Irish and American investigations from media reports - reporters had tied up his telephone line, forcing police to contact Vilks by sending a patrol car to his home in a rural area of Sweden.

His 2007 drawing provoked a controversy that later diminished.

"It was rather calm last year, but in the beginning of this year there was a Somalian calling me on a Somali mobile phone. He spoke Swedish. I thought that was a serious threat."

That led him to increase the security at his home.

"I have installed a defense system in my home, and the police is patrolling here from time to time. And I am always trying to identify strange sounds," he said in an interview with the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet.

But he told The Inquirer that his rural isolation provided good defense.

"It's not so easy to find me. You have to make a special trip, and you need your own car. I'm not so easily available."

Vilks did not draw a cartoon. Rather, he produced a drawing for a Swedish exhibit that asked artists to explore the limits on artistic expression.

"People said there were no limits, and I was doubting that," Vilks said, "and that was correct."

The drawing, of Muhammad as a dog, played off a Swedish fad in 2007 of installing canine sculptures as public art in the center of traffic circles.

"It's not a nasty attack on the prophet," he said. "It's more of a satire, but people have no sense of humor."

In Pennsburg, LaRose lived on the 400 block of Main Street, a busy mixture of single-family and duplex homes. Many are brick with Federal-style fronts.

Her home was on the second floor of a two-story duplex, with a white balcony that has wind chimes and a star hanging from the ceiling. Each unit has entrances in the front and back. A neighbor, Wesley Ziegler, 74, said most residents used their back entrances. "We have no idea who's coming and going," he said.

Janelle Mullen, 35, described the street as quiet with lots of children. She said tenants in the building tended to be long-term. Told of the charges against LaRose, she said: "That's scary."

LaRose is among the few women who have been charged with terror-related offenses, said Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd.

In 2005, Lynne Stewart, a New York lawyer and an American citizen, was convicted of terrorism violations for passing prison messages from Omar Abdel-Rahman, the "Blind Sheikh," to followers urging violent attacks.

In February, Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani woman who lived in Boston, was convicted of trying to kill U.S. military and law enforcement personnel in Afghanistan.

LaRose's public defender, Mark T. Wilson, declined to comment.