PHILADELPHIA – Colleen LaRose, the Pennsylvania woman who used the alias “Jihad Jane,” was sentenced Monday to 10 years in prison for her role in a plot to murder a Swedish cartoonist who ridiculed the Prophet Muhammad.
U.S. District Judge Petrese B. Tucker imposed the sentence in federal court in Philadelphia. LaRose, 50, pleaded guilty in February 2011 to conspiring to provide support to terrorists and commit murder in a foreign country. She has been jailed since her arrest in October 2009. With credit for time served, LaRose might be released in about five years, defense attorney Mark Wilson said after the hearing.
“We think the judge made a just determination,” Wilson said. “We don’t think it’s an inappropriate sentence.”
LaRose, also known as Fatima LaRose, of Pennsburg, Pa., worked with other indicted co-conspirators through the Internet to recruit men and women for terrorist groups. She also solicited funds for terrorists using e-mail and YouTube accounts to publish literature and videos, prosecutors said.
The government tied LaRose to a plot to murder Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who drew a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad with a dog’s body in 2007. Prosecutors said LaRose traveled to Europe in August 2009 after receiving the assignment to kill Vilks in such a way that would frighten non-Muslims. LaRose’s blonde hair and, blue eyes were seen as an asset to blending in, prosecutors said.
Two other co-conspirators, Mohammad Hassan Khalid, a Pakistani native who had been living in Maryland, and Jamie Paulin Ramirez, a former Colorado resident, are scheduled to be sentenced later this week.
Khalid and another man, Ali Charaf Damache, allegedly helped LaRose provide logistical and financial support and recruitment services in the plot. Both were charged in October 2011 with crimes including conspiracy and identity theft.
Khalid pleaded guilty in May 2012. Damache, an Algerian who acted as LaRose’s handler, has been fighting extradition from Ireland, where he was arrested on unrelated charges.
LaRose appeared in court in a green prison suit and black head scarf. She told Tucker she converted to Islam in 2008 and became more radical after meeting “brothers and sisters online” including a man prosecutors identified as “Eagle Eye.”
“Jihad jihad. I thought about jihad all the time,” LaRose said. “I was in a trance. I couldn’t think of nothing else.”
Eagle Eye, hiding in Pakistan, gave LaRose the assignment to kill Vilks. She told the judge she did whatever Eagle Eye asked because she “had so much respect for him.”
“I had an emotional attachment to him,” she said. “He was so brave, I thought. He gave me this assignment and that showed he trusted me. No sisters got this kind of assignment.”
LaRose acted as a hunter for the terror cell, finding and recruiting men and especially women with Western passports, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams said during the hearing. She took pride in her involvement and continues to show devotion to Eagle Eye, the prosecutor said.
LaRose led a troubled life before converting to Islam, her lawyer said, recounting a history of childhood sex abuse at the hands of her father and prostitution at age 14.
By age 17, LaRose who has a sixth-grade education, turned herself in to a crisis center called the Runaway House in Memphis, Tenn. She had been traumatized by the abuse and life on the street, Ollie Avery Mannino, a counselor for LaRose at the time, said in a videotaped interview played today in court.
“There’s no surprise that she could be easily manipulated by any man in her life,” Mannino said.
LaRose moved to Pennsylvania to be with a boyfriend who traveled for work. She spent lonely days surfing the Internet playing games and meeting friends. She converted to Islam after meeting a Muslim man while on vacation in the Netherlands and began seeking out Islamic groups online, Wilson said.
“They started to make her feel better about herself,” the lawyer said. “They started to manipulate her.”
While her crimes are serious, there was little chance of her carrying out the plot, he said. She never fired a weapon, got no closer than 300 miles to Vilks and had no real plan, he said.
LaRose spent five weeks in Ireland after the botched attempt to get near Vilks. She returned to the United States under an agreement to cooperate with the FBI. She met with authorities more than 20 times describing the conspiracy and interpreting emails and communications, according to a Dec. 30 government sentencing brief.
Prosecutors nonetheless pressed Tucker for a decades-long sentence, arguing that she might be re-radicalized.
“LaRose had such a big impact in the public and press because she changed the face of what the world thought of as a violent jihadist,” Arbittier Williams said. “She was vulnerable to that radicalization because of the life she had.”
LaRose disputed that, telling Tucker all she wants is to be with her sister Pam in Texas.
“I want to go home,” LaRose said. “I don’t want to be into jihad any more. I take this medicine, and I got real calm. I don’t have any desire to be violent or look up my brothers no more.”