Colleen LaRose, known popularly by her Internet aliases “Jihad Jane” and “Fatima Rose,” pleaded not guilty on Thursday to plotting with militant Muslims abroad to commit terrorist acts in Europe and Asia. Her plea is the latest in a string of high-profile “homegrown terrorists” who are now taking the stand in court.
The Pennsylvania resident faces four criminal charges, including conspiracy to provide support to terrorists, conspiracy to kill in a foreign country, lying to the FBI, and identity theft. (Read the unsealed indictment here.)
Her trial is set for May 3. If convicted, she could face a life sentence and a $1 million fine.
Ms. LaRose, however, is said to have confessed to the FBI soon after her October arrest about her role in the plot, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, citing two sources close the investigation. Her not guilty plea is routine and does not preclude a negotiated plea agreement, the Inquirer adds.
She appeared in the courtroom looking “nothing like the pictures of her that had been previously released,” according to the Los Angeles Times. “Gone was the heavy eyeliner and shock of blond hair. Gone was the black burka. Instead, the tiny 46-year-old Pennsburg, Pa., woman entered the courtroom wearing a dark green prison uniform and her hair braided in cornrows.”
But blond, blue-eyed “Jihad Jane” has attracted continued media attention. Her Caucasian ethnicity makes her unlike other recent cases of “homegrown terrorists” – such as David Coleman Headley, a Pakistani American who pleaded guilty Thursday to laying the groundwork for the 2008 Mumbai attacks, or five young Americans of Pakistani, Eritrean, Ethiopian, and Egyptian background who Wednesday pleaded not guilty in a Pakistani court to terrorism.
LaRose is one of at least 30 American citizens charged with terrorism-related acts over the past year, The Christian Science Monitor reported. (Read a list of others here.)
“The US is exporting militants, armed with radical interpretations of Islam and US passports, overseas at an alarming rate. In addition to David Headley, the Virginia students, and others, there has been a wave of Americans traveling to Somalia to fight with Al Shabab, an Al Qaeda-linked terrorist group,” Oren Segal, director of Islamic affairs at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, told the Monitor.
A one-time fundamentalist Christian from Texas and Michigan, LaRose had married and divorced twice, and had been arrested several times for public intoxication, writing bad checks, and fighting, according to the Philadelphia Daily News.
LaRose was arrested in October in the Philadelphia airport, after traveling to Europe carrying the American passport of her male companion. According to the New York Times, authorities say she stole the passport and intended to give it to a co-conspirator in a plot to kill a Swedish cartoonist “who depicted the Prophet Muhammad with the body of a dog.”
After her hearing Thursday, her public defender declined to comment on her mental state but added that none of her family or friends had come to support her in the courtroom, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Although she wore a burqa in pictures online and wrote e-mails pledging her desire to die for the cause, the Council on American-Islamic Relations noted that her live-in boyfriend said she never expressed Islamic sympathies nor pledged faith at a mosque, the LA Times adds.
“Maybe it’s not the Islamic faith that is making them do this; maybe it’s just their personal demons,” Ibrahim Hooper, the Council’s national communications director, told the Times.