WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Pennsylvania woman known as “Jihad Jane” pleaded guilty on Tuesday to plotting to kill a Swedish cartoonist, providing material support to terrorists, and other criminal charges, the U.S. Justice Department said.
Colleen LaRose, at a federal hearing in Philadelphia, admitted her role in a plot with others to kill the cartoonist, who had depicted the Prophet Mohammed in a way that is offensive to Muslims.
LaRose, 47, who has been in U.S. custody for more than a year, could be sent to prison for life when she is sentenced March 3.
Justice Department prosecutors said LaRose, who is from Pennsburg, Pennsylvania, used online pseudonyms such as “Jihad Jane,” “Fatima LaRose,” “ExtremeSister4Life” and “SisterOFTerror.”
They said she used multiple e-mail and YouTube accounts, other websites and various online usernames to publish violent jihadist literature and videos, to raise funds for militants and recruit others.
LaRose initially pleaded not guilty in March after an unsealed federal grand jury indictment alleged that she recruited men online to wage “violent jihad,” or holy war, in South Asia and Europe.
Her case illustrated how U.S. authorities have become increasingly concerned about Americans becoming radicalized by militant groups and being drawn in to participate in potential terrorism plots as well as being able to detect them.
“Today’s guilty plea, by a woman from suburban America who plotted with others to commit murder overseas and to provide material support to terrorists, underscores the evolving nature of the threat we face,” said David Kris, assistant attorney general for national security.
According to the indictment, LaRose told co-conspirators her appearance as a blond white woman would allow her to avoid detection as an Islamic terrorist.
LaRose, who has a history of broken marriages and petty crime, traveled in 2009 to Europe where she planned to train with jihadists and find and kill the Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks, according to the indictment.
It said LaRose posted a comment on YouTube in 2008 that she was “desperate to do something somehow to help” the suffering Muslim people.
The charges against her became public in March after the arrest of seven other people in Ireland in connection with a suspected plot to kill Vilks.
A second American woman, Jamie Paulin-Ramirez of Colorado, was among those arrested and has pleaded not guilty to similar charges in federal court in Philadelphia of plotting to kill Vilks.
Justice Department officials said LaRose received a direct order to kill the cartoonist and agreed to carry out her murder assignment.
If the case had gone to trial, prosecutors said they would have proven that in 2008 and 2009 LaRose worked “obsessively on her computer to communicate with, recruit and incite other jihadists.”
Additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky; Editing by Bill Trott