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"JihadJane" said to have confessed

The local woman who calls herself "JihadJane" has confessed to the FBI about her alleged role in a plot to kill a Swedish cartoonist, according to sources.

Colleen LaRose of Pennsburg (left), shown here in a photo from her website, is accused of plotting with Islamic extremists to kill Swedish artist Lars Vilks (right). (AP Photo / Bjorn Lindgren)
Colleen LaRose of Pennsburg (left), shown here in a photo from her website, is accused of plotting with Islamic extremists to kill Swedish artist Lars Vilks (right). (AP Photo / Bjorn Lindgren)Read more

The Montgomery County woman who calls herself "JihadJane" has confessed to the FBI about her alleged role in a plot to kill a Swedish cartoonist, according to two people close to the investigation.

Colleen LaRose confessed to FBI agents shortly after her October arrest at Philadelphia International Airport, where she had just arrived from London, said the two sources, who spoke on conditon of anonymity.

LaRose, 46, whose arrest was kept quiet until related arrests last week in Ireland, is scheduled to be arraigned this morning at the federal courthouse in Philadelphia.

A federal law enforcement source said LaRose's travels to Europe had included a visit with alleged coconspirators in Ireland.

Additional details of what LaRose told the FBI could not be learned yesterday. The lawyers in the case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams and Assistant Public Defender Mark Wilson, declined to comment.

LaRose is likely to follow routine legal procedure today during her arraignment and plead not guilty. Such a plea would not preclude a negotiated plea agreement; it would simply mark the start of formal court proceedings against LaRose.

Neither prosecutors nor defense attorneys are expected to take questions after the hearing, so hope is slim that more will emerge about LaRose's life before a judge decides whether to keep her in federal custody, where she has been since her arrest.

That has done little to contain interest in the case, which was revealed when LaRose's indictment was unsealed March 9.

Today's hearing has been moved into a large federal courtroom to accommodate anticipated demand for seats. Yesterday, LaRose's case came up in two hearings by different subcommittees of the House Committee on Homeland Security.

Rep. Charles W. Dent (R., Pa.), a member of both subcommittees, said the FBI had briefed him about the woman, who posted dozens of pro-Taliban screeds on YouTube and elsewhere from near an office Dent maintains in "the quaint, front-porch town of Pennsburg."

Dent, from Allentown, would not say much about how LaRose's case might go, but he said she had talked to government investigators.

"My understanding is that the cooperation has generally stopped at this point," Dent said in a telephone during a break in the hearings. "I'm not sure they're going to get much out of her going forward."

After today's scheduled arraignment, the back-and-forth of criminal procedure will likely begin to draw out more information about how LaRose's rough life allegedly led her to join a terrorist assassination scheme.

To date, public records and acquaintances have offered gritty sketches. After two divorces and some minor scrapes with the law, LaRose lived with her parents in the early 2000s in a trailer that shared a lot with a radio transmitter for KDFT-AM, a Christian station in Ferris, Texas.

The trailer was radio-station property. The station's engineer, Cecil Wilkinson, lived there with his family, including LaRose, whose mother Wilkinson married when LaRose was 4, according to a newspaper obituary.

Ted Sauceman, who was Wilkinson's manager at the station and who, as a minister, officiated at Wilkinson's funeral, said LaRose had lived with her stepfather, mother, and adult sister in the trailer for several years.

"Religion had nothing to do with it," said Sauceman, who managed the televangelist Jimmy Swaggart's network of radio stations in the 1980s. Wilkinson "was just an engineer, and he worked wherever there was a place. That's what engineers do."

When Wilkinson died in 2005, LaRose had already moved north to Pennsburg, where she lived with boyfriend Kurt Gorman. Reeling from his death a month later, LaRose took a handful of muscle relaxers after getting drunk and called her family in Texas, who sent police to help.

Her mother, whom KDFT allowed to live in the trailer after Wilkinson's death, eventually moved to Pennsylvania with LaRose, Sauceman said. After that, the station had the trailer demolished, and their Texas acquaintances lost track of the family.

LaRose's checkered life in Pennsylvania, where she lived with Gorman, included several minor convictions, starting in 2002. She lived an isolated life while Gorman traveled for work, helping care for two ailing Gorman family members, said a Gorman relative who spoke on condition of anonymity.

She also ventured online, with voluminous commentary openly attempting to connect with the Taliban and its sympathizers. Then, after the couple traveled to Amsterdam, Gorman's father died, and she abruptly moved out - taking, authorities say, Gorman's passport.

The next month, she traveled to Ireland for two weeks, where she allegedly met with others organizing a plot against the Swedish artist who published a caricature of the prophet Muhammad, said people familiar with the investigation. She carried the stolen passport and a belief that she, as a slight white woman, would "blend in with many people" in Europe.

But back home, authorities - tipped off by members of the Jawa Report, a forum for civilians concerned about Islamic terrorism - had begun tracking LaRose's Web commentary and her movements.

Her arrest in Philadelphia was kept quiet, and the subsequent indictment's allegations of terrorism were sealed, until authorities in Ireland could round up her suspected conspirators.

Seven were arrested there, including another American, Jamie Paulin-Ramirez of Colorado. Five have since been released.

Two men, an Algerian and a Libyan, were charged in a hearing late Monday with minor offenses that will keep them in custody. LaRose's case was not mentioned in that hearing, according to news reports.