'Jihad Jane's' Arrest Raises Fears About Homegrown Terrorists
Experts say the Pennsylvania woman was easy to find, and there could be more.
WASHINGTON, March 10, 2010— -- The arrest of a suburban Pennsylvania woman known by the alias Jihad Jane, who allegedly plotted with Islamic radicals abroad to kill a Swedish cartoonist, has raised fears about homegrown terrorists in the United States who may be difficult to spot.
"This woman might as well have advertised in the Washington Post," former White House counterterrorism official and ABC News consultant Richard Clarke said on "Good Morning America" today. "It was easy for the FBI to find her, but there are other people who are much more covert."
"There will likely be more attacks," Clarke said. "Hopefully, they will be small, and hopefully, we can catch them early."
Colleen R. LaRose, 46, of Montgomery, Pa., was arrested in October 2009 and charged with trying to recruit Islamic fighters and plotting to assassinate a Swedish cartoonist who made fun of prophet Mohammed, according to a federal indictment unsealed Tuesday.
The FBI had kept the case secret while it looked for more suspects in the United States and abroad. The case was made public after seven men were arrested in Ireland this week, suspected of plotting to kill the Swedish cartoonist.
LaRose's case is rare, Clark said, but it shows the capability of international dissident groups to reach out to Americans via the Internet.
"This is a very rare case of a disturbed woman," he said, but it signifies how "the Internet not only allows them to communicate, it allows them to recruit."
Their persuasive speeches and sermons, which have been effective in recruiting men and women in the Middle East, are "beginning to work for some misfits in the United States," he said.
LaRose was arrested in Philadelphia Oct. 16, 2009, and has been in federal custody ever since, without bail. She has not entered a plea. If convicted, she faces a potential sentence of life in prison and a $1 million fine.
Her three federal public defender lawyers have yet to return calls from ABC News.
LaRose could easily fit the part of a soccer mom. She was described by neighbors as an average housewife.
"Oh, my God, unbelievable, I can't believe that," one neighbor told ABC News.
Another said the news was an "amazing, shocking surprise."
Clarke said there is likely a small group of people like LaRose. But their numbers are less of a concern than the idea that radical groups can convey their ideology via this "remote control through cyberspace," he said.
"I think it's very small but it doesn't have to be very large," he said. "So it's not so much a matter of size. It's the fact that it's going on."
Authorities said LaRose's U.S. citizenship and appearance made her appealing to the Islamic radicals she first contacted on the Internet.
"The terrorists figured out that they can't all look like Middle Eastern people, whether they be male or female," former FBI agent and ABC News consultant Brad Garrett said. "And so they've put a lot of time and energy particularly into the Internet, of recruiting people."
LaRose is better known to federal authorities as Fatima Rose or Jihad Jane. On June 20, 2008, LaRose allegedly posted a video on YouTube calling herself JihadJane and stating she was "desperate to do something somehow to help" ease the suffering of Muslims, according to news station WPVI.
The indictment, obtained by ABC News, charged LaRose with conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists and conspiracy to kill in a foreign country, and making false statements to a government official and attempted identity theft.