'Jihad Jane' Had Troubled Past

American Suspected of Recruiting Jihadis on Internet Exhibited Signs of Instability

The Wall Street Journal/March 11, 2010

Pennsburg, Pennsylvania - An American woman accused of plotting to kill a Swedish cartoonist whose work enraged Muslims has led a checkered and sometimes troubled life, including at least two run-ins with the law before she was indicted on terror-related charges last week.

An indictment unsealed this week revealed that 46-year-old Colleen LaRose-who authorities said used the screen name "JihadJane" in Internet posts attempting to recruit jihadis-was charged March 4 with providing material support to terrorists. She has been held in a Philadelphia detention center since October, when she was arrested and charged with identity theft.

A person familiar with the matter said Ms. LaRose has been cooperating with authorities since her arrest. She helped prosecutors in their case against seven Muslims in Ireland accused of plotting to kill cartoonist Lars Vilks, this person said. Mr. Vilks's depictions of the Prophet Muhammad incited protests by Muslims. Law-enforcement officials said Ms. LaRose left the U.S. for Europe in August 2009, intending to train with jihadists and try to kill Mr. Vilks.

Ms. LaRose was born in Michigan and moved to Texas as a child, said a person who knows her. At age 14 she married a man at least twice her age, this person said. She later married another man who has numerous criminal convictions in Texas, court records show.

Ms. LaRose held temporary jobs, the person who knows her said. In Texas, she was arrested for driving under the influence but wasn't convicted, this person said. In 1997 she was charged in Tom Green County with writing a bad check, a criminal misdemeanor. An arrest warrant for that charge is outstanding.

A law-enforcement official said Ms. LaRose appears to have converted to Islam several years ago.

According to a May 2005 incident report, Ms. LaRose's sister told Pennsburg police Ms. LaRose was threatening suicide. "Colleen was highly intoxicated and having difficulty maintaining her balance," an officer reported.

In 2007, Ms. LaRose, calling herself "Fatima LaRose," registered a social-networking profile on dailymotion.com. Among videos she posted are what appear to be depictions of attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq.

Ms. LaRose lived in a second-story unit of a red-brick multifamily residence here in Pennsburg from at least 2003, when police records show she called in a report about two kittens in her yard, until August 2009. Debbie Turner, who works in a real-estate office across from the home, said she saw Ms. LaRose at a local store about a year ago. Ms. LaRose wasn't covering her face or hair, Ms. Turner said, adding, "Her hair was frizzy and she looked very rough."

"She was definitely out there," said Matthew Nelson of Pennsburg, who said Ms. LaRose lived with her former boyfriend Kurt Gorman for about five years. Mr. Gorman is president of a company in Quakertown, Pa., that supplies components to the broadcast industry and where Mr. Nelson is a plant manager. Mr. Nelson said Ms. LaRose disappeared in August, and Mr. Gorman's passport went missing. The indictment says Ms. LaRose took the U.S. passport of someone identified as "K.G."

Mr. Gorman didn't return messages seeking comment.

Although investigators don't believe Ms. LaRose posed an imminent threat and wasn't plotting an attack in the U.S., she is another in a series of recent cases involving Westerners using the Internet to incite jihad. In June 2008, according to the indictment, she posted a comment on YouTube using the name "JihadJane" and said she was "desperate to do something somehow to help" Muslims.

In later messages she described her wish to become a "martyr in the name of Allah," according to the indictment.

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