A Pennsylvania woman has been charged with joining a group overseas that sources said planned to kill a Swedish cartoonist whose drawings of the Prophet Muhammed provoked worldwide outrage.
A federal indictment unveiled Tuesday alleges that Colleen LaRose, 46, of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, called herself "Jihad Jane" and was also known as Fatima Larose. It says she agreed to kill a Swede on orders from unnamed terrorists and traveled to Europe to carry out the killing.
Federal sources told NBC News that the case is related to a group of people arrested in Ireland earlier Tuesday on suspicion of plotting against Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who depicted the Prophet Muhammad with the body of a dog.
LaRose was charged with four counts, including conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, conspiracy to kill in a foreign country, making false statements to a government official, and attempted identity theft.
LaRose, a convert to Islam who has blond hair and blue eyes, indicated in her online conversations that she thought her appearance would help her move freely in Sweden to carry out the attack, the indictment said.
‘Desperate to do something to help’
The case "demonstrates that terrorists are looking for Americans to join them in their cause, and it shatters any lingering thought that we can spot a terrorist based on appearance," U.S. Attorney Michael Levy said.
Investigators say that in June 2008, LaRose posted a comment on YouTube saying she was "desperate to do something to help" suffering Muslims. Six months later, LaRose received a response from someone who offered to join her and to become a martyr, FBI officials said.
In a February 2009 online message to a co-conspirator in south Asia, she said her physical appearance would allow her to "blend in with many people," which "may be a way to achieve what is in my heart," the indictment said.
LaRose actively recruited others to terrorism, including at least one unidentified American, and her online messages expressed willingness to become a martyr and impatience to take action, according to the indictment and a U.S. official.
"I will make this (killing the artist) my goal till I achieve it or die trying," she wrote another south Asian suspect in March 2009, according to the indictment.
Investigators say that after corresponding with others overseas, LaRose moved to Sweden in August and joined a group that was plotting to kill Vilks. Al-Qaida put a $100,000 bounty on Vilks' head after a newspaper in August 2007 published his cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad with the body of a dog.
Was considered an asset
Prosecutors said LaRose's overseas terrorist contacts considered her an asset because of her western appearance, which allowed her to blend in while in European countries.
According to the 11-page indictment, she agreed to obtain residency in a European country and marry one of the terrorists to enable him to live there.
She returned to the United States last fall, apparently believing the group wasn't serious enough, FBI officials said.
FBI agents arrested LaRose last October.
Her federal public defender, Mark T. Wilson, declined to comment Tuesday.
Department of Justice spokesman Dean Boyd said the case represents "one of only a few such cases nationwide in which females have been charged with terrorism violations." He declined to comment further on it.
In recent years, the only other women charged in the U.S. with terror violations were lawyer Lynne Stewart, convicted of helping imprisoned blind Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman communicate with his followers, and Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani scientist found guilty of shooting at U.S. personnel in Afghanistan while yelling, "Death to Americans!"
But neither of those cases involved the kind of plotting attributed to LaRose — a woman charged with trying to foment a terror conspiracy to kill someone overseas.
Stewart has insisted she is "not a traitor," while Siddiqui has accused U.S. authorities of lying about her.
Ireland arrests linked to case
Authorities in Ireland on Tuesday arrested seven people accused of joining a plot to kill the Swedish cartoonist, and U.S. officials said the LaRose case was linked.
Several Muslim countries protested after the Vilks cartoon was published, which was more than a year after riots broke out over Danish cartoonists' depictions of the Prophet.
Kurt Westergaard, a Danish cartoonist who in 2005 depicted Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban, received death threats.
In January this year, a Somali man was arrested after breaking into his home in western Denmark armed with an ax.