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Published: Tuesday, 3/23/2010

Unlikely plotter

THE face of jihad in America has taken on an unexpected look. The alienated male loner has given way to an angry woman with big hair.

Colleen LaRose of suburban Philadelphia doesn't look like a typical jihadist. Her blond tresses and blue eyes make her look more like a singer with ABBA than someone capable of plotting a terrorist attack in Sweden, an allegation that landed her in FBI custody.

Ms. LaRose came to the bureau's attention because of her inflammatory blog, YouTube video, and unusual screen name: JihadJane. U.S. intelligence monitored her movements when she traveled to Europe and tracked her communications with an alleged jihadist contact in South Asia.

In pitching her services, Ms. LaRose boasted that she could mix with the civilian population and not attract attention. All she needed was a mission and a chance to prove her willingness to die for the cause.

Ms. LaRose is accused of conspiring to support a plot to kill Lars Vilks, a Swedish artist who depicted the Prophet Mohammed as a dog to test the limits of artistic expression in his country in 2007. She was arrested at a New York airport in October before the plot unfolded. Her arrest was kept secret until this month, when her indictment was unsealed. Several alleged accomplices were arrested in Ireland.

Ms. LaRose has pleaded not guilty to the charges against her. A congressman said she has cooperated with authorities.

Still, the existence of a "Jihad Jane," a homegrown terrorist sympathizer who willingly joined an overseas plot, is disturbing. It marks an evolution in jihadist tactics: How many other American women might be open to recruitment via the Internet?

Americans need to understand the appeal of this movement to people such as Ms. LaRose. The next Jihad Jane may not be as easy to spot.

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