“We are going to err on the side of caution,” says Richard P.Quinn, the FBI’s assistant special agent in charge for counter-terrorism in Philadelphia.
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Eagle Eye wanted her to fly to Europe to train as an assassin with other al-Qaeda operatives, then to Sweden to do what few other Muslim jihadists could: blend in. At the time, one official said the conspiracy “underscores the evolving nature of the threat we face.” A second said the case “demonstrates yet another very real danger lurking on the Internet” and “shatters any lingering thought that we can spot a terrorist based on appearance.” The case was so serious, authorities said, that they charged La Rose with crimes that could keep her in prison for the rest of her life.
The terrorists believed that her blonde hair, white skin and U. passport, even her Texas twang, would help her to get close enough to the target: Lars Vilks, a Swedish artist who had blasphemed the Prophet Mohammad by sketching his face on the head of a dog. The court filings and press releases draw a frightening portrait of the Jihad Jane conspiracy. “I got so close to being able to do this,” La Rose says today of the plan to kill Vilks.
They also show the gullibility of the main players or the ways that they botched almost every assignment along the way.
Khalid, a troubled high school honor student who lived with his parents in Maryland, inadvertently linked his secret jihadist blog to a page on his school website.
“We will go after operatives and operations that are more aspirational than operational because to do otherwise would almost be negligent.” At least at the outset, authorities had no way to be certain how much of a threat La Rose might pose, given her resolute conviction and her unique attributes - primarily the way she looked.
No one disputes that La Rose and Khalid managed to make contact with overseas al-Qaeda operatives and with a loose affiliation of young American-born male Muslim jihadists inside the United States.
Since the 9/11 terror attacks, the FBI has investigated hundreds of cases similar to the Jihad Jane conspiracy.
With each investigation comes a challenge: how to prevent acts of terrorism without violating civil rights or overreacting to plots that are little more than bluster.
Perhaps most intriguing is the story of La Rose, the aspiring assassin whose devotion and naiveté left her susceptible to recruitment but prone to failure.
In the only interview she has given, La Rose says she became devoted to the Muslim men she met online and blindly followed their instructions because they seemed righteous.
A compact woman with a seventh-grade education, La Rose was a recent convert to Islam.