Ireland frees American woman in terrorist plot

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For the parents of Jamie Paulin-Ramirez, the news late Saturday that Irish police had released their daughter from custody did little to alleviate the question of how she may have become involved with suspects in a plot to kill a Swedish cartoonist targeted by Islamic radicals.

When word of her release reached this mountain town, Paulin-Ramirez’s stepfather, George Mott, said it was “both good news and bad news.”

Mott and his wife, Christine, said they still could not reach their daughter and feared that she and her 6-year-old son, Christian, may still be involved with radical Islamists she had followed to Ireland last year.

Earlier Saturday, the Motts had described their daughter, a convert to Islam, as a lonely woman looking for acceptance. They were trying to explain how she became linked to a number of suspects arrested in an alleged plot to kill cartoonist Lars Vilks, whose 2007 drawing of the prophet Muhammad with the body of a dog outraged many Muslims.

Irish police have not identified Paulin-Ramirez by name but said that seven people were detained, including an American. Three others were released Saturday. It’s unclear whether Paulin-Ramirez’s release signals exoneration or if suspicions about her linger.

But what is clear, according to her parents, is that she long struggled to fit in. She had a hard time making friends, they said, but became even more isolated when she moved from Denver to this isolated, 10,000-foot-high town two years ago.

After several months, she found another, virtual community, one of Islamic extremists with whom she could trade messages via Facebook and MySpace. Always fascinated by foreign cultures, Paulin-Ramirez -- who had previously been married to three Mexican men -- mounted an image of a turbaned Arab on her computer as a screen-saver. She donned a hijab.

Her parents hoped the fascination was just an attempt to be noticed. “It was killing her -- she couldn’t get a single person to come up to her,” George Mott said. That changed after her conversion.

“You’re blond-haired, blue-eyed and now you’re Muslim,” he said. “Everybody is going to want to know why.”

On Sept. 11, 2009, Paulin-Ramirez took her son to Ireland, where she stayed in a mosque and then married one of her online correspondents. Late last week, the FBI told the Motts that their daughter had been arrested.

“She doesn’t have the sense God gave a goose. She’s book-smart and common-sense-dumb,” said Christine Mott as reporters filed in and out of her house. “If she’d done something dumb like get online and marry some murderer in prison, that wouldn’t surprise me. . . . She wanted someone to love her.”

As told by her family, Paulin-Ramirez’s odyssey puts an all-American spin on an increasingly familiar tale -- the rootless member of modern society who becomes seduced by extremist ideology.

Brian Jenkins, a terrorism expert with the Rand Corp., said the FBI has investigated about 45 cases of Americans allegedly involved in terrorist activities since Sept. 11.

“Most of these people were self-radicalized,” Jenkins said. “These are individuals who are seeking. It isn’t about a religious journey. Rather, it’s people who are discontented and who get swept up in an ideology, the invention of a new persona, and the prospect of adventure.”

Paulin-Ramirez was born in a Kansas City suburb, where her parents divorced while she was young. She suffered from a hearing disorder and was a frequent target of bullies.

Her first marriage ended after her husband beat her, her mother said. Her second husband, father to Christian, was an illegal immigrant and deported. A third husband, also in the country illegally, was also deported, the Motts said.

Eventually, she followed her mother to Denver. After getting her medical assistant degree in 2008, Paulin-Ramirez secured a job at a clinic outside Vail, then moved to the faded mining town of Leadville.

George Mott, 51, had been a practicing Muslim for decades, but his stepdaughter never asked him about his faith. Occasionally, such as after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, she would lash out at the religion, he said. But early last year she began visiting Islamic websites and chatting online with a man in Pakistan.

One day she made a surprise announcement: She was converting to Islam.

She later said that her Pakistani correspondent wanted her help in coming to the U.S. to attend flight school. “That raised some red flags,” her mother said.

Then another man entered her online world, a Muslim from North Africa. “She spent every waking moment she wasn’t working on the computer talking to him,” Christine Mott said.

Both of the Motts argued with her, trying to persuade her to rethink her new allegiances. Among the people she chatted with online, they said, was Colleen R. LaRose, known as “JihadJane,” a Pennsylvanian who was charged last year with helping extremists target Vilks.

After she settled in Ireland, Paulin-Ramirez would call her parents occasionally, but the conversations became shorter and shorter. Eventually, she told her mother she’d married her online correspondent. Even talks with Christian became tense. Christine Mott recalled how he told her that she should convert to Islam or burn in hell.

On Monday, four days before her arrest, the Motts had their most recent conversation with Paulin-Ramirez. Christian got on the phone, George Mott said, and was eager to tell him something.

Mott said Christian told him he’d learned to shoot a gun and had his own sword and knife. “I’ve learned how to fight,” Mott said the boy said proudly.


Times staff writer Bob Drogin in Washington contributed to this report.