PHILADELPHIA — The woman who dubbed herself "
Colleen LaRose, 50, will get credit for the four years she has already spent behind bars. Although she could have received a life term for what U.S. District Judge Petrese B. Tucker called "gravely serious" crimes, he tempered the punishment because of her cooperation with prosecutors.
Standing 4 feet 9 inches tall and wearing a black head scarf and green prison uniform, LaRose delivered a rambling statement in court. She said she converted to Islam in 2008, but didn't take it seriously until seeing videos of "Zionists bombing Palestinians." That, she said, made her angry and anxious for vengeance.
"That's all I could think of," she said. "I would wake up in the morning and think of jihad."
While living in suburban Philadelphia with a boyfriend, LaRose connected with Islamic extremists on the Internet. In 2008 and 2009, she raised money for them and recruited jihadis, prosecutors said.
In summer 2009, she accepted an assignment from her "brother" in Pakistan, who said he was a member of the Taliban. That August, she traveled to the Netherlands and Ireland in a quest to kill cartoonist Lars Vilks.
In Ireland, however, she met a couple who showed her the peace in Islam, her attorney said. She emailed a confession to the
LaRose told the judge she was not the same woman who wanted to kill for Islam.
"I don't want to be into jihad no more," she said. "I don't think like I used to."
Prosecutors conceded LaRose should be spared the maximum because of her help with terrorism investigations, but said she deserved decades in prison, both to ensure she didn't reengage with her radical contacts and to deter others.
"This is a sentence that people are watching," Assistant U.S. Atty. Jennifer A. Williams said.
The prosecutor noted that LaRose had appeared wistful about her days as a jihadist, bragging about her entry in
Defense attorney Mark T. Wilson argued for leniency, citing LaRose's abused, neglected youth and her stint as a teenage prostitute as factors in her exploitation by Muslim radicals.
He also suggested that although LaRose's crimes were serious, the plot had "a sense of impossibility." LaRose had never fired a gun, did not possess a weapon when she arrived in Europe and had no real idea about where to obtain one, he said. Although she researched where she might have access to her target, Vilks, she never got closer than 300 miles, Wilson said.
LaRose told the judge that her elderly mother had died and she yearned to be with her sister, who lived in Texas. "She's all I've got left of my family," LaRose said. "She needs me and I need her."