RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
She called herself Jihad Jane. Her real name is Colleen LaRose. The petite, middle-aged blonde from the suburbs of Philadelphia represents one of law enforcement's worst nightmares. She's the new face of terrorism.
Prosecutors say LaRose converted to Islam and then trolled the Internet to recruit others. Allegedly, she'd look for people like herself - women with American or European passports - who could, as she put it, blend in. Officials worry she's the latest in a growing number of Americans who are signing on with terrorists.
NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports.
DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: if you've been listening to NPR's terrorism coverage in the past year, these are some of the names you've been hearing.
STEVE INSKEEP: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Anwar al-Awlaki.
Unidentified Man: Sahim Alwan.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Kamel Derwish.
Unidentified Man: Yahya Goba.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Nidal Hasan.
MICHELE NORRIS: Najibullah Zazi.
MELISSA BLOCK: Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Here's something you might not have realized: more than half the people on that list are Americans.
Professor BRUCE HOFFMAN (Georgetown University): It's the same problem we see in Europe. There, you know, there really is no longer any one profile of the terrorist. We want to believe that there is, but there isn't.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Bruce Hoffman is a professor at Georgetown University and a frequent consultant to the government on terrorism.
Prof. HOFFMAN: More and more, whether it's local high school students who, you know, have reputations of being good students and good boys or whether it's, you know, the next door neighbor's housewife, what we see is that there's just an incredible diversity of the people being attracted to these movements and that it's no longer possible to say who a terrorist is, or even to say that it's someone so dramatically different from ourselves.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Consider Colleen LaRose's biography. She dropped out of high school. She'd been married several times. Back in Texas, where she'd lived before Pennsylvania, she'd been arrested for writing bad checks and for drunk driving. Neighbors said she was quiet and kept to herself. In other words, she's precisely the kind of person who could fly under law enforcement's radar. A petite, blonde, American woman, before now, didn't fit the terrorist profile.
Prof. HOFFMAN: The problem is given how diverse these people are, it just raises the challenges for both law enforcement and intelligence to run these threats to ground.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Perhaps the most famous American to have joined the enemy is a Californian named Adam Gadahn. He's been a prominent spokesman for al-Qaida. He was in the news this week when there were reports that Pakistani authorities had captured him. Turned out, they hadn't.
Gadahn is not the only American who has become the public face of a terrorist group.
Mr. OMAR HAMMAMI: (Foreign language spoken)
TEMPLE-RASTON: That's the soundtrack of a jihadi recruitment video that came out of Somalia last year. It stars a young man named Omar Hammami.
Mr. HAMMAMI: The only reason we're staying here away from our families, away from the cities, away from, you know, ice, candy bars, all these other things, is because we're waiting to meet with the enemy.
TEMPLE-RASTON: It's no accident that Hamammi with an American accent. He was born in the U.S. His father is a Syrian immigrant - his mother, an American. And he grew up in Alabama, a star of his high school class.
Law enforcement officials say the video - which has gone viral on the Internet - is aimed at recruiting Americans for al-Shabab, a group affiliated with al-Qaida. Experts say the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have made recruiting easier.
Mr. REID SAWYER (Combating Terrorism Center, West Point): It really is this culmination of eight years of being involved in these two wars that is starting to supercharge the environment among these Diaspora communities.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Reid Sawyer is the head of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.
Mr. SAWYER: It certainly doesn't mean that there's going to be a wave of these individuals coming forward, but it just means that the numbers are increasing.
TEMPLE-RASTON: The numbers are increasing. This time last year, a young Hispanic man named Bryant Neal Vinas stood up in a Brooklyn courtroom and pleaded guilty to terrorism charges. He had spent 14 months in Pakistan training with al-Qaida. What he made clear is that what al-Qaida is looking for is people like him or Jihad Jane: people who don't fit the profile of a terrorist.
Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News, New York.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.