A US judge on Monday sentenced a US woman who called herself Jihad Jane to 10 years in prison — at least a decade less than prosecutors had sought for her role in a failed plot to kill a Swedish artist who had depicted the head of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed on a dog.
Colleen LaRose, 50, who converted to Islam online and has maintained her faith, was given credit for the four years she has already served. LaRose, who pleaded guilty to following orders in 2009 from alleged al-Qaeda operatives, could have received a life sentence.
“It’s a just and reasonable sentence,” her attorney, Mark Wilson, said after the hearing. “She’s pleased. Ten years is about what we were hoping for all along.”
US District Judge Petrese Tucker called LaRose’s crimes “gravely serious,” adding: “The court has no doubt that, given the opportunity, Ms LaRose would have completed the mission.”
Tucker also cited the significant cooperation LaRose has given the FBI in other terrorism cases since her 2009 arrest, as well as the sexual and other abuse she suffered as a child.
LaRose, who used the name Jihad Jane as she became involved in the Muslim online community, traveled to Europe in 2009 intending to participate in a militant plot to shoot artist Lars Vilks in the chest six times. However, LaRose became impatient with the men who lured her to Europe and she gave up after six weeks and returned to Philadelphia, where she was arrested.
At Monday’s hearing, LaRose apologized for blindly following the instructions of her handlers.
“I was in a trance and I couldn’t see anything else,” she said. “I don’t want to be in jihad no more.”
Assistant US Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams had sought “decades behind bars” for LaRose, arguing that despite her extensive cooperation, she still was a danger to society. Prosecutors had also said that LaRose — a blond, green-eyed, white American — did not fit the stereotype of an Islamic militant.
“This is a sentencing that people are watching,” Williams said on Monday. “Ms LaRose had such a big impact in the public and press because she really did change the face of what the world thought of as a violent jihadist. It was scary for people to hear that Ms LaRose could have been radicalized simply online in the US.”
Wilson told the court that the plot to kill Vilks was “more aspirational than operational” and that LaRose had never even fired a gun.
He had described LaRose as a lonely and vulnerable woman easily manipulated by others online. Her behavior, while not excusable, can be explained in part by deep psychological scars from her childhood, he said.