PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia-area woman who authorities say dubbed herself "Jihad Jane" online pleaded not guilty Thursday in federal court to a four-count indictment charging her in an overseas terrorist plot.
Colleen LaRose, 46, of Pennsburg, appeared in court wearing a
green jumpsuit and corn rows in her blond hair. A May 3 trial date
Authorities say she grew acquainted online with violent
co-conspirators from around the world. They say she posted a
YouTube video in 2008 saying she was "desperate to do something"
to ease the suffering of Muslims.
She was arrested in October 2009 in Philadelphia while returning
to the United States.
LaRose spent most of her life in Texas, where she dropped out of
high school, married at 16 and again at 24, and racked up a few
minor arrests, records show.
After a second divorce, she followed a boyfriend to Pennsylvania
in about 2004 and began caring for his father while he worked long
hours, sometimes on the road. In 2005, she swallowed a handful of
pills in a failed suicide attempt, telling police she was upset
over the death of her father - but did not want to die.
As she moved through her 40s without a job or any outside
hobbies, her boyfriend said, she started spending more time online.
Though her boyfriend, Kurt Gorman, did not consider her
religious, and she apparently never joined a mosque, LaRose had by
2008 declared herself "desperate" to help suffering Muslims in
the YouTube video.
"In my view, she sort of slipped sideways into Islam. ... There
may have been some seduction into it, by one or more people," said
Temple University psychologist Frank Farley.
LaRose and Gorman shared an apartment with his father in
Pennsburg, a quaint if isolated town an hour northwest of
Philadelphia. Just days after the father died last August, she
stole Gorman's passport and fled to Europe without telling him,
making good on her online pledge to try to kill in the name of
Allah, according to the indictment.
From June 2008 through her Aug. 23, 2009, departure, the woman
who also called herself "Fatima Rose" went online to recruit male
fighters for the cause, recruit women with Western passports to
marry them, and raise money for the holy war, the indictment
She had also agreed to marry one of her overseas contacts, a man
from South Asia who said he could deal bombs and explosives,
according to e-mails recovered by authorities.
He also told her in a March 2009 e-mail to go to Sweden to find
the artist, Lars Vilks.
"I will make this my goal till i achieve it or die trying,"
she wrote back, adding that her blonde American looks would help
her blend in.
Vilks questioned the sophistication of the plotters, seven of
whom were rounded up in Ireland last week, just before LaRose's
indictment was unsealed. Still, he said he was glad LaRose never
got to him. Although she had written the Swedish embassy in March
2009 to ask how to obtain residency, and joined his online artists
group in September, there is no evidence from court documents that
she ever made it to Sweden.
Instead, she was arrested returning to Philadelphia on Oct. 15.