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'Jihad Jane' gets 10-year sentence for terror plot against cartoonist

Reuters file

Colleen LaRose, who named herself "Jihad Jane" in a video she posted online, is seen in a June 1997 mug shot released by the Tom Green County Sheriff's Office after an arrest for driving under the influence in San Angelo, Texas.

A Pennsylvania woman known as “Jihad Jane” who became a follower of radical Islam and sought to kill a Swedish cartoonist was sentenced Monday to 10 years in prison.

Colleen LaRose, 50, had faced a potential life term. But U.S. District Judge Petrese Tucker accepted a government request to reduce the sentence, because of her extensive cooperation with investigators. Prosecutors still sought decades in prison, fearing she remains dangerous.

"This case clearly underscores the evolving nature of the terrorist threat we now face in this country," said Zane David Memeger, U.S Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. "The internet has made it easier for those who want to attack the American way of life to identify like-minded individuals to carry out their terroristic plans."

LaRose, who called herself Jihad Jane in a video she posted online, previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to murder a foreign target and support terrorists and lying to the FBI in connection with a failed 2009 plot to kill Lars Vilks, a Swedish artist who offended many Muslims by drawing the Prophet Mohammed's head on a dog's body. Two other Americans -- Mohammad Hassas Khalid and Jamie Paulin Ramirez – also participated in the plot.

LaRose faced life in prison, but at her sentencing hearing in Philadelphia Monday morning Judge Petrese Tucker granted a government request for a lesser term. Prosecutors agreed with the defense that LaRose suffered abuse during her life. LaRose wore a prison jumpsuit and a head scarf to the hearing.

LaRose was cooperative following her arrest in 2009,  meeting more than 20 times with U.S. authorities, and providing information about multiple targets, Reuters quoted U.S. officials as saying last week. Prosecutors said her story also has helped law enforcement better understand the roots of homegrown extremism, the officials said.  

A 2012 Reuters investigative report described LaRose's troubled life before she converted to Islam: childhood rapes by her biological father, teenage prostitution, heavy drug abuse and failed marriages. LaRose said that her father's sexual assaults, confirmed by confidential court records, began in second grade.

Related series: Jihad Jane’s strange journey from abuse to jihad 

LaRose was living with an oft-travelling boyfriend in 2007 when a romantic encounter with a Muslim man sparked an interest in Islam. After months of learning online, LaRose said, she converted to Islam and later watched videos of alleged U.S. and Israeli atrocities against Palestinian children that radicalized her.

By 2008, prosecutors said, "she had managed to align herself with violent terrorists who valued her ability and persistence as their online predator, or ‘hunter,'" recruiting new fighters.

Following instructions from an al Qaeda operative in Pakistan, LaRose later flew to Europe for the plot to kill the Swedish artist. But after six weeks, largely in Ireland, LaRose became frustrated with the mission's pace and returned to Philadelphia, where she was arrested.

One of her co-conspirators, Mohammad Hassas Khalid, 20, of Ellicott City, Md., is scheduled to be sentenced on Tuesday. Khalid, who was a teenager when the plot was hatched, is the youngest person ever charged with terrorism charges in the United States. Prosecutors have recommended a sentence of “less than 10 years” for Khalid.

Prosecutors said Khalid, who grew up in Pakistan, lived a double-life after moving to Maryland -- as "a polite and studious 15-year-old" and "a tireless soldier for violent jihad." He helped al Qaeda by translating videos from Urdu to English, inciting others, and aided LaRose as she smuggled a stolen U.S. passport to a terrorist, they said.

Ali Damache, LaRose’s alleged handler in Ireland, remains jailed there, fighting extradition to the United States on terrorism charges. The third U.S. co-conspirator, Ramirez, who flew from Colorado to marry Damache in Ireland, has pleaded guilty to related terrorism charges. She may be sentenced on Wednesday.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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