'Net Posse Tracked 'Jihad Jane' for Three Years

Civilian monitors warn of others like "Jane" on the 'Net who are more dangerous.

March 11, 2010, 12:14 AM

March 11, 2010— -- While the rest of America was stunned to hear that a suburban Pennsylvania woman allegedly used the Internet identity of Jihad Jane and tried to join militant jihadists, for a group of 'Net vigilantes it was old news.

In fact, at least one of the Web sleuths claims to have alerted the feds to Colleen LaRose's alleged efforts to raise money and recruit fighters for Islamic terrorists and to carry out her own jihad.

Groups like JawaReport, Quoth the Raven and the YouTube Smackdown Corps claim they had been monitoring LaRose's growing militancy for three years, and watched as the Internet -- particularly YouTube -- fed her fervor.

They also said "Jihad Jane" is not the only one on the Internet that the groups are monitoring.

"There are certainly many others out there who are more eloquent and appear to be more dangerous from the way they talk," a man calling himself Rusty Shackleford told ABC News.

Shackleford, a pen name, says he is a libertarian college professor who created the blog JawaReport in 2004 after he was enraged that Iraqi Islamists had beheaded an American named Nick Berg.

"It was my way of venting. But mostly it was about countering violent Islamist propaganda, specifically the videos that were being produced by al Qaeda in Iraq and other Salaafist jihadists fighting our troops," he said.

Shackleford said his goal from the beginning was combating violent Islamist material and support on the Web.

"I'm a blogger, but also an activist against violent Islamism. One of the things we do is try and pressure Webhosts to remove Websites that belong to terrorist organizations. An example of this would be the dozen or so times we've successfully had the Taliban's website removed. The websites sometimes pop back up, sometimes not," Shackleford said.

Shackleford and other contributors to JawaReport and sites like it noticed YouTube had become a hub for videos and comments in support of violent extremism and attacks against the West and its allies, leading to the creation of the YouTube Smackdown.

Shackleford said the groups identify videos in support of violent Islamism and pressure the Web site to take them down, "as they would child pornography or other obscene material."

According to the "Quoth the Raven" blog, since the "smackdown" movement began in 2007, users have had over 31,000 videos removed from YouTube, and 695 users suspended. They say LaRose was one of those suspended.

YouTube Is Popular Spot For Jihadist Videos

Victoria Grand, head of policy for YouTube could not comment specifically on LaRose's alleged videos, but did say YouTube depended on it's community to flag innapropriate content.

"We have 20 hours of video uploaded to the site every minute, it's a ton of content and we don't prescreen content, it's not possible. We have an innovative community policing mechanism in place," Grand said.

According to Grand, YouTube's policy for inappropriate content includes incitement of violence, hate speech, graphic violence, and members of foreign terrorist organizations.

"We always are trying to balance the idea of free speech and the idea of national security and keeping our users safe," she said.

For those policing YouTube for alleged terrorist content, they say LaRose was constantly on their radar.

"A few years ago a few of us began to notice her YouTube postings. Like many other YouTube users supportive of violent jihad, she would often post al Qaeda or related videos," Shackleford said.

"It was pretty hard to miss her," said Robert, an administrator of SmackdownCorps.com. "She made lots and lots of encouraging comments on Islamic videos. The trick was to find her new user name after we suspended each account. She was very persistent. But again, she made it easy to find her."

Robert said as he followed LaRose on YouTube, he witnessed her descent into violent extremism.

"In my eyes, Jihad Jane was a product of YouTube. I watched her become more radicalized and her influence grew all on YouTube. YouTube provided an excellent platform for her to spread her message of hate and she used it well. She was seen as, and portrayed herself on YouTube as a mother figure to the young Islamists and they respected her and looked up to her," he alleges.

"She was one who would post comments on the terrorist videos which I was viewing, things like 'Allah Akbar!' or 'Kill the kafir pigs' or 'Kill the Jews' kinds of things. Those types of statements put her on my radar," said a person affiliated with the YouTube Smackdown and the JawaReport who wished to only be known as a "42-year-old mom from the Mid West."

According to Mid West Mom, she noticed LaRose a year and a half ago, and although she admits "feeling sorry" for La Rose, she also said she knew she "needed to be stopped."

"The question is, are they serious or are they just blowing steam? It's very difficult to tell. Colleen crossed the line as far as I was concerned when she started recruiting to raise funds for the mujahedeen back in June of last year. Not only was she a terrorist sympathizer, she was now operating illegally," Midwest Mom said.

"Jihad Jane" Went Over the Line

One person claimed responsibility on the JawaReport for alerting the FBI to "Jihad Jane," saying that she was gathering a growing following of "real terrorists."

"When she finally made an account which she actively solicited funds for the Pakistan Mujaheddin, which at this point I knew she had acquired the contacts for, I knew she had become a real threat for our safety and had officially violated U.S. Federal Law," the anonymous blogger wrote. "It was time to report her. This being in July 2009 I formally called the FBI in Philadelphia to report her."

When the FBI was asked if a member of YouTube Smackdown tipped them off to "Jihad Jane," Special Agent J.J. Klaver of the Philadelphia office said, "I can't comment on the case at all, any aspect of it."

But the federal indictment of LaRose cites Internet communications as early as March 2009. According to the indictment, LaRose has been indicted on federal charges that include providing material support to terrorists and conspiracy to kill in a foreign country. The indictment also says La Rose and her coconspirators tried to recruit fighters and solicited funds for terrorists organizations online.

There are numerous jihadist sites on the Web. They range from small time bloggers like "Jihad Jane" and the Mujahideen of the YouTube, to the Taliban and militant cleric Anwar al Awlaki who had conversations with both Fort Hood gunman Major Nidal Malik Hasan and the alleged "underwear bomber" Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab who tried to blow up a plane over Detroit on Christmas Day.

Shackleford described what is going on online between his groups and the extremists as "war," and said to him there is certainly an "e-Jihad" going on.

"Anwar al Awlaki had a lengthy discourse on this a couple of years ago: 44 ways to support the jihad, electronic jihad being front and center," he said.

"I don't know that there is a front line in the war on terror. That might be part of the problem. It could be said the whole world is the front line, but the online aspect is certainly a central battlefield," said Robert.

"Terror is a weapon that needs media coverage to succeed and the Internet provides the perfect vehicle for them. I would say that is a serious battle and I am not sure who is winning. This seems to be a back burner issue for many, but it really needs to be addressed," he said.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events