In Depth

Who is Jihad Jane? Blonde US extremist jailed for ten years

Five things you may not know about Colleen LaRose, the middle-aged jihadist who plotted to kill a Swede

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AN AMERICAN woman who called herself Jihad Jane has been sentenced to ten years in prison for a failed plot to kill a Swedish artist who drew an offensive cartoon of the prophet Muhammad. 

Colleen LaRose, 50, admitted in 2011 that she sought to kill Lars Vilks, who depicted the head of the prophet on the body of a dog. LaRose, who became one of the most notorious examples of "homegrown" terrorism in the US, was found to have conspired to kill in a foreign country. She was also found guilty of providing material support to terrorists, attempted identity theft and making false statements.

Troubled childhood

LaRose was allegedly raped by her biological father at a young age. She ran away from home at 13 and lived on the streets as a prostitute, drinking and taking drugs such as crack and crystal meth. As a teenager she suffered a miscarriage that left her unable to have children and at 16 she married a man twice her age. After a quick divorce, she later married at the age of 24 and again divorced after ten years. Born in Michigan, she moved around in Texas and later Pennsylvania.

Converted after an affair

In a rare interview, LaRose told Reuters that she first became interested in Islam after having a one-night stand with a Muslim man in Amsterdam in 2007. She was in Holland with a long-term boyfriend at the time and hid the affair. On her return to America she signed up to a dating site, Muslima.com, to meet Muslim men and became devoted to those she met online. She claims she converted to Islam via instant messenger, took on the name Fatima and became radicalised after watching YouTube videos of atrocities against Palestinian children. By summer 2008, she was posting jihadist videos on YouTube and MySpace under various names including Sister of Terror, Ms Machiavelli and Jihad Jane.

Chosen for her blonde hair and white skin

LaRose's white skin, blonde hair and US passport were said to be among the reasons the extremists she met online chose her to target Vilks. In January 2009 they asked her to become a martyr by shooting the artist, believing she would be able to "blend in" in Sweden. It was her devotion and naiveté that left her susceptible to recruitment, says Reuters, but also made her prone to failure.

Amateur plot

LaRose came close to carrying out the attack on Vilks, despite arousing the suspicions of the FBI because of her presence on online jihadist forums. She flew to Amsterdam and later to Ireland to meet with the extremists she met online, but on both occasions the plot stalled. LaRose left Ireland after six weeks. She had apparently grown lonely and missed her boyfriend, mother and her cats Fluffy and Klaus. Her boyfriend told her that her mother was seriously ill in a bid to entice her home. She was arrested on her return in October 2009, but insisted that she had not given up her jihad and expressed disappointment that the men she had met in Holland and Ireland had simply moved too slowly.

Engaged to a prisoner

In 2012 it was reported that she had found love in prison. Despite being confined to a cell for 23 hours a day, she discovered a way to communicate with other prisoners. By scooping out enough water from her toilet bowl she could speak to other inmates through the sewer pipes. At the time she claimed she intended to marry another prisoner, who was not Muslim but who had promised to convert when they get out. It is not known if the couple are still together.

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