PHILADELPHIA — Colleen LaRose spent long days caring for her boyfriend’s father in a second-floor apartment in Pennsburg, a small town north of Philadelphia.
But online, federal authorities say, the devoted caretaker developed a daring alter ego, refashioning herself as “Jihad Jane” while helping recruit and finance Muslim terrorists — and eventually moving overseas to try to kill an artist she perceived as an enemy to Islam.
LaRose, 46, was charged Tuesday with conspiring with jihadist fighters and pledging to commit murder in the name of a Muslim holy war, or jihad. The indictment was announced hours after authorities arrested seven suspected terrorists in Ireland allegedly linked to LaRose, who has been in prison since her Oct. 15 arrest while returning to the United States.
In e-mails recovered by the FBI over 15 months, LaRose agreed to marry an online contact from South Asia so he could move to Europe. She also agreed to become a martyr, the indictment said.
But perhaps she felt like one already.
Born in Michigan, LaRose moved to Texas as a girl and had married twice by age 24. Her first marriage came at 16, to a man twice her age in Tarrant County, Texas, public records show. There are no records or reports of any children from either union, both of which were long over by the time she met Pennsylvanian Kurt Gorman in 2005.
LaRose lived with Gorman and his father in Pennsburg, caring for the older man while Gorman worked at his family’s small business in another town, Gorman said this week.
But online, she grew increasingly devoted to a loose band of what authorities say were violent co-conspirators from around the world. They found her after she posted a YouTube video in June 2008 saying she was “desperate to do something somehow to help” ease the suffering of Muslims, the indictment said.
She eventually agreed to try to kill Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who had angered Muslims by depicting the Prophet Muhammad with the body of a dog, according to a U.S. official.
Despite Web images that show LaRose in a Muslim head covering, Gorman said he never picked up on any Muslim leanings. She never attended religious services of any kind, he said. Gorman, 47, sensed nothing amiss in their five-year relationship until the day after his father’s funeral last August.
“I came home and she was gone. It doesn’t make any sense,” he said Wednesday outside his firm in nearby Quakertown.
That same day, LaRose had removed the hard drive from her computer and set off for Europe. She had swiped Gorman’s passport and planned to give it to the co-conspirator she had agreed to marry, the indictment said.
It’s unclear how she was able to travel overseas, given that the FBI, presumably tipped to her online postings, had interviewed her July 17. According to the indictment, she denied soliciting funds for any terrorist causes or making the postings ascribed to “JihadJane.”
By Sept. 30, she wrote online that it would be “an honour &great pleasure to die or kill for” her intended spouse, the indictment said. “Only death will stop me here that I am so close to the target!” she is accused of writing.