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In a federal court in Philadelphia today, an American woman pleaded guilty to terrorism charges that could send her to prison for life. Colleen LaRose admitted that she used the Internet nickname Jihad Jane to recruit U.S. citizens for a violent overseas plot.
As NPR's Carrie Johnson reports, the case has attracted international attention because LaRose is such an unlikely radical.
CARRIE JOHNSON: Colleen LaRose has lived a hardscrabble life; marriage at 16, brushes with the law and a suicide attempt - what one newspaper called the makings of a country Western song - until she got involved in an international plot to kill a Swedish cartoonist who had offended Muslims.
Bruce Hoffman studies terrorism at Georgetown University.
Mr. BRUCE HOFFMAN (Professor, School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University): Blue-eyed, blonde, petite suburban housewife is not what readily comes to mind when we think of, you know, radical homicidal terrorists.
JOHNSON: He says LaRose is an amateur, but the Jihad Jane case is still worth taking seriously.
Mr. HOFFMAN: There's no evidence she received training anywhere. There's no evidence that she was following anyone's orders or directions. But nonetheless, even this person, let's say, on the margins of terrorism, I think, in a very short span of time was able to, you know, pull together at least the bare bones of a plot.
JOHNSON: A plot that went like this: LaRose, using the handles Fatima or Jihad Jane, urged other people, especially American women, to travel overseas to wage jihad.
Prosecutors say she wanted recruits who could easily blend into European society: people with U.S. passports and no criminal record.
Patrick Rowan is a former national security prosecutor.
Mr. PATRICK ROWAN: Putting aside, you know, the personality that she brought into this, it appears to be a case where she learned everything she knew from the Internet, and that was the source of her radicalization.
JOHNSON: The Internet also proved her downfall. A group of volunteers who prowl the Web for extremists apparently came across some of LaRose's postings. They alerted the FBI.
Authorities finally caught up with LaRose in Ireland. She'd gone there to visit people she'd met online to try to carry out an attack.
Mr. JUAN ZARATE (Senior Adviser, Center for Strategic and International Studies): This is Juan Zarate. I'm a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
It's a very interesting and important case as we look at the metastasizing of the ideology and whether more and more Americans are being drawn to the narrative that al-Qaida has espoused for many years and that has grown more and more popular around the world among some.
JOHNSON: So many are being drawn to it that the FBI is getting flooded with tips about a wide range of wannabe terrorists.
Again, here's Hoffman at Georgetown University.
Mr. HOFFMAN: Al-Qaida and other groups are trying to get us to focus on this quote, unquote "low-hanging fruit" of the less competent terrorists in hopes that they suck up our time and attention. And perhaps the more professional and, indeed, a more sophisticated and successful terrorist plot can therefore be perpetrated
JOHNSON: LaRose will be sentenced in March. One of the women she allegedly recruited, a young mother from Colorado known as Jihad Jamie is facing trial later this year.
Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.
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