An American woman known as “Jihad Jane” among online Islamist activists was sentenced to 10 years in jail on Monday for her part in an alleged al Qaeda plot to kill a Swedish cartoonist.
Colleen LaRose, 50, admitted that she had agreed to kill Swedish artist Lars Vilks over his series of drawings depicting the prophet Muhammad as a dog.
She faced a potential life sentence, but the judge accepted a government request to reduce the sentence because of her extensive cooperation with investigators.
Prosecutors argued that she remains dangerous.
LaRose, who converted to Islam online and called herself “Jihad Jane”, traveled to Europe in 2009 intending to participate in a militant plot to shoot artist Lars Vilks in the chest six times. But LaRose became impatient with the lack of action from the group who lured her to Europe and she gave up after six weeks and returned to Philadelphia, where she was arrested.
At Monday’s hearing, LaRose apologised for blindly following instructions of her handlers.
“I was in a trance and I couldn’t see anything else,” she said.
Assistant US Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams had sought “decades behind bars” for LaRose, arguing that despite her extensive cooperation, she still was a danger to society. Prosecutors also had pointed out that LaRose - a blond, green-eyed, white American - did not fit the stereotype of a jihadist.
“This is a sentencing that people are watching,” Williams said on Monday. “Ms. LaRose had such a big impact in the public and press because she really did change the face of what the world thought of as a violent jihadist. It was scary for people to hear that Ms. LaRose could have been radicalised simply online in the US.”
Defence lawyer Mark Wilson said the plot to kill Vilks was “more aspirational than operational” and that LaRose had never even fired a gun.
Sexually abused by her father
He had described LaRose as a lonely and vulnerable woman easily manipulated by others online. Her behaviour, while not excusable, can be explained in part by deep psychological scars from her childhood, he said.
LaRose’s biological father repeatedly raped her from about age seven to 13, when she ran away and became a prostitute, according to court documents. At age 16, LaRose married a man twice her age and later became a heavy drug user.
“I survived a lot of things that should rightfully have killed me,” LaRose told Reuters in a 2012 interview.
While LaRose was in contact with an al Qaeda operative in Pakistan, her conspirators repeatedly bungled a plot that never progressed much beyond the planning stages.
The artist Vilks told Reuters that he believes LaRose has spent enough time in prison and should be freed.
Ali Damache, LaRose’s alleged handler in Ireland, remains in prison and is fighting extradition to face terrorism charges in the USA. Jamie Paulin Ramirez, who flew from Colorado to marry Damache in Ireland, has pleaded guilty to related terrorism charges and is scheduled to be sentenced on Wednesday.
A lawyer for another co-conspirator who has pleaded guilty, Mohammad Hassan Khalid, has asked that his sentencing Tuesday be delayed in order to complete psychological evaluations. Khalid, who grew up in Pakistan and was an honour student in suburban Baltimore, committed his crimes when he was 15 and 16. He is the youngest person ever charged with terrorism inside the United States.
According to a November report in The Guardian, documents leaked by Edward Snowden to the British newspaper show that the FBI became involved in the ‘Jihad Jane’ case after the National Security Agency intercepted communications related to the plot.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AP)
Date created : 2014-01-06