Reporting from Philadelphia — Colleen R. LaRose, the so-called Jihad Jane, pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges that she conspired with foreign terrorists to kill a Swedish cartoonist who insulted Islam.
LaRose, appearing in a Philadelphia courtroom, looked nothing like the pictures of her that had been previously released.
Gone was the heavy eyeliner and shock of blond hair. Gone was the black burka.
Instead, the tiny 46-year-old Pennsburg, Pa., woman entered the courtroom wearing a dark green prison uniform and her hair braided in cornrows.
She almost smiled when greeting her public defenders.
Marshals briefly removed her handcuffs, and U.S. Magistrate Judge Lynne Sitarski asked for her answer to the four-count indictment.
Aside from responding "not guilty," LaRose remained silent during the brief arraignment.
A trial was set for May 3. If convicted, she faces a maximum sentence of life in prison and a $1-million fine.
Also Thursday, the Philadelphia Inquirer, citing anonymous sources, reported that LaRose confessed to the FBI about her role in the plot.
Outside the courthouse after the hearing, one of her public defenders, Mark Wilson, declined to comment on LaRose's mental state but said no friends or relatives were in the courtroom to support her.
Asked whether she had reacted to the possibility that she could face a life sentence, Wilson would say only, "Of course she has."
LaRose, who authorities say referred to herself online as "Jihad Jane" and "Fatima Rose," departed for Europe in August to carry out the mission against the cartoonist, who had drawn the prophet Muhammad with the body of a dog.
LaRose returned to the U.S. in mid-October, when the FBI took her into custody at Philadelphia International Airport. She has been held in a Philadelphia prison since.
The case became public March 9, when federal authorities unsealed a four-count grand jury indictment.
The indictment alleges that she wrote in a Sept. 30 e-mail that it would be "an honour & great pleasure to die or kill" and "only death will stop me here that I am so close to the target!"
The indictment does not link her to an organized terrorist group, but federal authorities say she used the Internet to recruit jihadist fighters.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Jennifer Arbittier Williams and Matthew F. Blue, an attorney with the counter-terrorism section in the Justice Department's National Security Division, declined to comment.
Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said he was briefed several times on the LaRose case, most recently on March 12.
She has been cooperating with an international investigation of radical Muslims, and Dent said he believed the indictment was filed after authorities had learned what they could from her.
LaRose's actions should be taken seriously, despite her apparently unsophisticated tactics, such as posting YouTube videos, Dent said.
"Basically, what we know is she conspired to kill another human being," he said.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations has questioned the religious devotion of supposed converts like LaRose, noting that her live-in boyfriend said she never expressed Islamic sympathies and that she apparently never pledged her faith at a mosque.
"Maybe it's not the Islamic faith that is making them do this; maybe it's just their personal demons," said Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director for the council.