Colleen LaRose, better known as “Jihad Jane,” was sentenced to ten years in federal prison last week. LaRose was convicted on multiple terrorism-related counts, most notably for her role in plotting the murder of a Swedish cartoonist who depicted the Islamic Prophet Muhammad as a dog in a political cartoon. Prosecutors allegedly sought a more serious sentence but U.S. District Judge Petrese Tucker lightened LaRose’s punishment based in part on her renouncement of her crimes.
A native Philadelphian, LaRose converted to Islam via the internet where she connected with extremists abroad. She admitted to raising funds and recruiting Jihadists for terrorist organizations in 2008 and 2009 before connecting with a Pakistani man who eventually gave her the “assignment” of traveling to the Netherlands and Ireland to kill Lars Vilk. During her travels, she claimed to have met with an Islamic couple in Ireland who taught her peace in Islam. She then sent an e-mail to an FBI tip line and flew home to Philadelphia, where she was arrested at the airport.
LaRose apologized for her actions at last Monday’s sentencing hearing, stating, “I was in a trance and I couldn’t see anything else. I don’t want to be in jihad no more.” Her attorneys cited a neglectful upbringing and other childhood issues as reasons for LaRose’s turn to radical Islam.
LaRose’s attorney also pointed out that the plan had a “sense of impossibility” to it and that LaRose never actually confronted Vilk or even fired a weapon. Still, ten years may seem like a light sentence, especially considering her strong former ties to Jihadist groups and the fact that she raised funds and recruited for those groups. Other domestic defendants, most notably Bradley Manning, who have been charged and convicted of aiding enemies of the United States have received much harsher sentences in comparison.
LaRose’s relatively light sentence may have to do with the fact that she never actually plotted to commit an attack against Americans and the attack she did intend to commit (against a foreign citizen with no known ties to the U.S.) never advanced past the planning phase. Further taking into consideration her apparent change of heart and possible information she provided to authorities about her co-conspirators and Jihadist groups she was in connection with, the Court obviously felt that she was no longer a true threat to national security.
LaRose will receive credit for four years already served. She requested to serve the remainder of her sentence near her sister in Texas but the decision will ultimately be in the hands of the Bureau of Prisons.
Chris Whitten, Research Fellow
Center for Policy and Research