The Story Behind “Jihad Jane”
After converting to Islam, “Jihad Jane” found herself involved in a terror plot half-way around the world. What drives people to such political extremes? John Shiffman, the reporter behind the Reuters series discusses the story on Huff Post Live with Ricky Camilleri.
On March 9, 2010 – the day U.S. authorities announced terrorism charges against a blonde, white American woman who called herself Jihad Jane – senior government officials repeatedly described the arrest as a seminal event in the war on terror. The case was so serious, authorities said, that they charged the woman, Colleen LaRose, with crimes that could keep her in prison for the rest of her life.
Now, as she awaits sentencing, a months-long Reuters review of confidential documents and interviews with sources in Europe and the United States — including the first and only interview with Jihad Jane herself — reveals a far less menacing and, in some ways, more preposterous undertaking than what the U.S. government asserted.
SPECIAL REPORT - Jane’s Jihad: the new face of terrorism
Exclusive: Jihad Jane’s first interview - Reuters TV Investigates
The American who called herself Jihad Jane read the words on her computer screen. Colleen LaRose was fiddling on the Internet, passing time in her duplex near Philadelphia, when the call to martyrdom arrived from halfway around the world.
The order came from an al-Qaeda operative. The date: March 22, 2009.
This was it, she thought. Her chance. At 45, LaRose was ready to become somebody.
State Department officials suspected that two Libyan guards hired by its own security contractor were behind an April incident in which a homemade bomb was hurled over the wall of the special mission in Benghazi, according to official emails obtained by Reuters.
But the men, who had been taken into custody the day of the attack, were released after questioning by Libyan officials because of a lack of “hard evidence” that could be used to prosecute them, the State Department emails show.
“Amazing,” wrote Eric Nordstrom, then the regional security officer with the U.S. Embassy in Libya, describing the obstacles in prosecuting the suspects.
The brother of al Qaeda’s second-in-command, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike, said Washington’s use of the remote-controlled weapons is inhumane and makes a nonsense of its claims to champion human rights.
U.S. officials said on Tuesday that Libyan-born al Qaeda operative Abu Yahya al-Libi was killed by a drone strike in Pakistan, in what was described as a major blow to the militant group.
The attack is likely to fuel an increasingly fierce debate about the legality and morality of the drones, which have become one of the chief U.S. weapons against al Qaeda but which opponents say stretch the definition of the legitimate use of lethal force.
One elegantly dressed man with a bloodied face was surrounded by bodyguards with their 9 mm pistols drawn and ready. He was stupefied. I began to photograph him only to find out later that he was a former interior minister under the previous government, and that he was the target of the blast.
Police arrived and made it difficult for me to photograph. I was only documenting one act of the terrorism that is plaguing the globe. I evaded them as I photographed, trying to photograph a body lying amidst the destroyed vehicles. The police closed off the street as the woman kneeling next to the man asked them for help. Ambulances began to arrive and take away the injured, with everything happening very fast.
I used in seconds almost everything I had learned in my years as photographer, and relived my experiences in the streets of Medellin covering the armed conflicts of the 1980’s and 90’s. Amidst the shock and daze, I pressed the shutter as the adrenaline flowed and kept me from breaking into tears.
My mobile phone rang, and my boss asked me, “Where are you?”
“I’m at the bomb site.”
PHOTOGRAPHER’S BLOG: Another Ground Zero
State-sponsored international terrorism declined precipitously over the subsequent two decades.
Some of the reasons were specific to particular states that had been leading practitioners, such as the survival of the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the subsequent realization of rulers in Tehran that constant assassinations and subversion in neighboring states were not critical to keeping their regime alive. Two other factors had more general application.
One was the end of the Cold War and demise of the Soviet Union, which had been an important source of aid to a state such as Syria—aid substantially greater than what Russia provides today.
The other, related, factor was globalization and the escalation of opportunity costs of being a pariah state.
THE ATLANTIC: The decline of state-sponsored terrorism
Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was not the “puppet master” of jihadi groups around the world and was burdened by what he saw as their “incompetence,” according to an analysis of documents seized from his hideout in Pakistan.
The Combating Terrorism Center, a privately funded research center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, posted on its website on Thursday some declassified documents taken in the raid on bin Laden’s house in Abbottabad in which he was killed by U.S. forces a year ago. (http:www.ctc.usma.edu)
“On the basis of the 17 declassified documents, Bin Ladin was not, as many thought, the puppet master pulling the strings that set in motion jihadi groups around the world,” a report on the documents by the Combating Terrorism Center said. “Bin Ladin was burdened by what he saw as their incompetence.”
The center spells bin Laden’s name as Bin Ladin.