AS AUTHORITIES tell it, Colleen R. LaRose wasn't joking on June 20, 2008, when she posted a comment on YouTube using the screen name "JihadJane" and saying that she was "desperate to do something somehow to help" suffering Muslims.
Instead, LaRose, 46, formerly of Pennsburg, Montgomery County, and a U.S. citizen, was about to embark on a plot to recruit terrorists and commit murder in Sweden, according to federal prosecutors.
Authorities unsealed an indictment yesterday alleging that LaRose and five unindicted co-conspirators recruited men and women over the Internet to be terrorists in South Asia and Europe and to finance terrorism.
A Department of Justice spokesman wouldn't confirm that the case was related to a group of people arrested in Ireland earlier yesterday on suspicion of plotting against a Swedish cartoonist who depicted the prophet Muhammad with the body of a dog.
But a U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity said LaRose had targeted the Swedish cartoonist and had online discussions about her plans with at least one of the suspects in Ireland.
LaRose, also known as "Fatima LaRose," was arrested in Philadelphia by the FBI on Oct. 15, and appeared before a federal magistrate the next day and agreed to pretrial detention.
She did not enter a plea, but U.S. Attorney Michael Levy said he expects LaRose to be arraigned soon.
LaRose has been charged with conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, conspiracy to kill in a foreign country, making false statements to the FBI and attempted identity theft.
If convicted of all charges, LaRose could potentially face life behind bars, authorities said.
Levy said there were "many parts" to the ongoing investigation, but he would not comment further.
Defense attorney Mark Wilson also declined comment.
The indictment said LaRose and her alleged co-conspirators used online messages to establish relationships with one another and to communicate about their plans, which included martyring themselves, soliciting funds and passports for terrorists and skirting travel restrictions to promote terrorism.
David Kris, assistant attorney general for national security, said the indictment against LaRose "underscores the evolving nature of the threat we face."
And the threat, as laid out in the indictment, is that terrorists will even use suburban American women to further their aims.
In February 2009, LaRose, who has blond hair and blue eyes, wrote to one of her co-conspirators advising the individual that her appearance would allow her to "blend in with many people," which "may be a way to achieve what is in my heart," the indictment alleged.
On March 22, 2009, things really got serious when one co-conspirator allegedly ordered LaRose to commit murder, saying, "go to Sweden . . . find location of [Resident of Sweden, hereafter referred to as RS #1"] . . . and kill him."
LaRose responded later that day: "i will make this my goal till i achieve it or die trying."
Authorities said LaRose was interviewed by the FBI on July 17 and told them she had never solicited funds for terrorism and had not used the online screen name of "JihadJane."
The feds said she traveled to Europe on Aug. 23 "with the intent to live and train with jihadists, and to find and kill RS #1."
The feds also said that LaRose joined an online community on Sept. 8 hosted by the target and became a "citizen" of RS #1's artists' enclave in Sweden.
On Sept. 30, LaRose allegedly sent an online message to a co-conspirator in which she stated it would be "an honour & great pleasure to die or kill for" him and pledging that "only death will stop me here that i am so close to the target!"
LaRose, who was not charged with murder, was arrested in Philadelphia on Oct. 15, when she returned from Europe.
The arrests in Ireland were of four men and three women who were from Yemen and Morocco but who were in Ireland legally after being granted asylum. Police close to the investigation told the Associated Press that the suspects had been under surveillance since November and had been identified based on intelligence intercepts of e-mails and telephone calls monitored with help from anti-terrorist officials in the United States, Interpol and Sweden.
The alleged target of the murder conspiracy, Swedish artist Lars Vilks, told Swedish news agency TT that he was unfazed by the arrests, which he thought could be linked to two death threats he received in January.
"I'm not shaken with fear exactly," he said. "I have prepared in different ways and I have an ax here in case someone should manage to get in through the window."