PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - A Pennsylvania woman who called herself “Jihad Jane” pleaded not guilty on Thursday to charges of providing material support to terrorists and conspiring to kill in a foreign country.
Colleen LaRose appeared in federal court in Philadelphia accused of plotting with others over the Internet to kill a Swedish cartoonist who depicted the Prophet Mohammed in a way that was offensive to Muslims, and of wanting to become a martyr to Islam.
LaRose, 46, from Pennsburg, Pennsylvania, has been in custody since October. A grand jury indictment against her, unsealed on March 9, said she recruited men online to wage “violent jihad” or holy war, in South Asia and Europe.
Diminutive LaRose appeared in court shackled at the ankles and wearing in green prison overalls, with her blond hair in braids. She replied “not guilty” when asked to plead after being read the charges by a court official, but otherwise made no comment during the brief proceeding.
Magistrate Judge Lynne Sitarski set LaRose’s trial to begin on May 3. LaRose will remain in custody until then.
Outside the court, LaRose’s court-appointed lawyer, Mark Wilson, declined to comment in detail about his client.
LaRose -- who used online pseudonyms such as “Jihad Jane” and “Fatima LaRose” -- told co-conspirators her appearance as a blonde-haired white woman would allow her to “blend in with many people” and avoid being detected as an Islamic terrorist, the indictment said.
LaRose, who has a history of broken marriages and petty crime, traveled last August to Europe, where she planned to live and train with jihadists and find and kill the Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks, according to the indictment.
Among e-mails sent to unidentified co-conspirators was one in which she said she considered it “an honor and great pleasure to die or kill for” one of them, the indictment said.
It said that LaRose posted a comment on YouTube in June 2008 saying she was “desperate to do something somehow to help” the suffering Muslim people.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on Thursday that LaRose has confessed to the FBI, according to unidentified sources.
Her travels to Europe included a visit to co-conspirators in Ireland, the newspaper said. Irish police on Monday charged two men in a plot to murder Vilks.
She faces life in prison if convicted on all charges.
Editing by Doina Chiacu and Michelle Nichols