"Jihad Jane" Pleads Not Guilty

This image provided by the SITE Intelligence Group shows Colleen LaRose, an American woman from Pennsylvania indicted Tuesday March 9, 2010 and accused of using the Internet to recruit jihadist fighters and help terrorists overseas. AP/SITE Intelligence Group

A Pennsylvania woman accused of trolling the Internet as "Jihad Jane" while she cared for her boyfriend's father denied in court Thursday that she sought to kill a Swedish artist targeted by radical Muslims or agreed to marry a terrorism suspect to help him get travel documents.

Colleen LaRose, 46, of Pennsburg, appeared in federal court wearing a green jumpsuit and corn rows in her blond hair, smiling warmly at her public defenders when she entered the courtroom for her arraignment. The judge set a May 3 trial date on charges in the four-count indictment, unsealed last week.

LaRose was accused of conspiring with fighters overseas and pledging to commit murder in the name of a Muslim holy war, or jihad. She was arrested Oct. 15 returning to Philadelphia from Europe and remained in federal custody while authorities pursued the investigation.

The indictment was filed March 4 and made public five days later after authorities rounded up seven terror suspects in Ireland. Those suspects are linked to LaRose, according to a U.S. official not authorized to discuss the case, who spoke to The Associated Press previously on condition of anonymity.

Thursday's hearing lasted less than five minutes, just long enough for LaRose to say "not guilty" when asked her plea to the charges: conspiring to aid terrorists, conspiring to kill someone overseas, lying to the FBI and stealing her ex-boyfriend's passport.

Authorities were on her trail as early as July 2009, when the FBI interviewed her about more than a year's worth of online posts and messages, including a 2008 YouTube video in which she said she was "desperate to do something" to ease the suffering of Muslims.

She denied to agents that she had used the screen name "Jihad Jane" or had sent any of the messages recovered, which included fundraising appeals for the jihadist cause, according to the indictment.

The suspects detained in Ireland include Jamie Paulin-Ramirez, a 31-year-old Colorado woman whose mother said she began talking about jihad with her Muslim stepfather and soon spent most of her time online, according to the U.S. official.

Paulin-Ramirez left Leadville, Colo., on Sept. 11, 2009, with her 6-year-old son and told her family she had married a fourth time, to an Algerian she had met online, her mother said. Irish officials, who also arrested the Algerian in the arrests this month, later said they had released the American woman. Her whereabouts remain unclear.

LaRose had left the United States in late August for Europe, though her specific destination hasn't been revealed.

Both women left troubled lives behind, LaRose having survived a suicide attempt and Paulin-Ramirez, according to her mother, an abusive first marriage and a childhood marked by bullying.

LaRose's live-in boyfriend of five years, Kurt Gorman of Pennsburg, did not attend Thursday's hearing, and there were no apparent friends or relatives there, either. Gorman has said that he knew nothing of her interest in Islam, and that she disappeared Aug. 23 without saying a word.

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 Gorman 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, later telling Pennsburg police she was upset over the death of her father - but did not want to die, according to the police report.

As she moved through her 40s without a job or any outside hobbies, Gorman said, she started spending more time online.

Though he did not consider her religious, and she apparently never joined a mosque, LaRose had by 2008 declared herself "desperate" to help 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 in August, she stole Gorman's passport and fled, according to the indictment. She had been taking care of the elderly man.

From June 2008 through her Aug. 23, 2009, departure, LaRose, who also allegedly 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 charged.

The South Asian man she had agreed to marry told her in a March 2009 e-mail to go to Sweden to find the artist, Lars Vilks, the indictment said.

"I will make this my goal till i achieve it or die trying," she wrote back, adding that her blond, blue-eyed, all-American looks would help her blend in.

Vilks questioned the sophistication of the plotters, but noted he is 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 returned to Philadelphia and was swiftly taken into custody.
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