A woman from Montgomery County who used the online nickname of "JihadJane" has been indicted for conspiring to provide support to Islamic terrorists with whom she allegedly plotted to kill a Swedish artist.
Prosecutors accused Colleen R. LaRose, 46, of emailing terrorists sympathizers and offering to use her American looks and identity to carry out an attack. She was arrested last October but her incarceration was kept secret until today.
American and foreign governments used the time to sweep up a terrorist network in Ireland, according to news media in that country. The Irish Times said seven men, most from other nations, were arrested as part of a plot to murder a Swedish artist who drew a controversial image of the Prophet Muhammad.
Two American officials told the Inquirer that LaRose's arrest was connected to the Irish investigation and planned attack in Sweden.
LaRose was arrested at Philadelphia International Airport when she stepped off a plane from Europe in October. Her internet postings sympathetic to radical jihad attracted the FBI's attention.
American officials say LaRose, who is divorced, lived in Texas before moving to the Philadelphia area in 2004. A white woman of slight build, LaRose has no known occupation.
LaRose lived in a Pennsburg apartment building, attached to a post office, when FBI agents started their investigation last fall.
She is accused of recruiting women online to travel to Europe "in support of violent jihad," the indictment says.
The court document quotes email messages in which LaRose, who also used the online name "Fatima LaRose," as telling a South Asian man that her appearance would allow her to "blend in with many people."
She later received a "direct order" to kill a citizen of Sweden, identified as Lars Vilks.
LaRose is accused of writing this email: "i will make this my goal till i achieve it or die trying."
The indictment identifies the target as a Swedish artist.
Before her arrest, LaRose had traveled to Europe, the indictment says.
In an interview today with The Inquirer, Vilks, 63, said he learned of today's arrests from the news media, who tied up his telephone line and forced police to send a patrol car to his home in a rural area of Sweden.
His drawing, in 2007, provoked an initial controversy, which then 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 interview with the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet.
But, he told the Inquirer, his rural isolation offers a pretty good defense.
"Its 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 of Mohammed. Rather, he produced a drawing for a local exhibit that asked artists to explore the limits on artistic expresson.
"People said there were no limits, and I was doubting that," said Vilks, "and that was correct."
The drawing, of Mohammed as a dog, played off of a Swedish fad in 2007 of installing public art of canines in the middle of traffic circles.
"Its not a nasty attack on the prophet, 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, and a neighbor, Wesley Ziegler, 74, said most residents use 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 kids. She said the tenants in the house tended to be long-term. Told of the charges against LaRose, she said "That's scary. I have two teenage boys and a 4-year-old."
LaRose is only one of a handful of women who have been charged with terror related offenses, said Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd.
In 2005, Lynne Stewart, a New York attorney and American citizen, was convicted of terrorism violations for passing prison messages from the "Blind Sheikh" to followers urging violent attacks.
In February, Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani woman who lived in Boston, was convicted of attempting to kill U.S. military and law enforcement personnel in Afghanistan.
LaRose's public defender, Mark T. Wilson, declined to comment.