Blonde-haired, blue-eyed Colleen LaRose simply replied “yes” when she was asked by US District Court Judge Petrese Tucker if she was now pleading guilty, after first denying the charges last year.
The 47-year-old pleaded guilty to terrorism, plotting to kill in a foreign country, lying to the FBI and attempted identity theft — charges for which she could face life behind bars.
LaRose was arrested in October 2009 in a plot to kill Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks, who unleashed a storm of protests from Muslims with his cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad seen as insulting to Islam.
US authorities have said the Pennsylvania resident, who recounted on her MySpace page how she converted to Islam, spent more than a year networking with would-be attackers around the world.
She sought to recruit men and women online, raise money and even agreed to carry out the murder of a Swedish resident, pledging “only death will stop me,” the indictment charged.
The Justice Department unsealed the indictment against LaRose in March 2010, just hours after Irish police arrested seven people accused of plotting to kill Vilks.
An Al-Qaeda-linked group has placed a $100,000 bounty on his head in response to a cartoon he drew depicting the Prophet Muhammad with the body of a dog.
“Today’s guilty plea, by a woman from suburban America who plotted with others to commit murder overseas and to provide material support to terrorists, underscores the evolving nature of the threat we face,” said Assistant Attorney General David Kris.
The Department said LaRose had received a direct order to kill a Swedish national, and had traveled to Europe to track him online.
LaRose had allegedly bragged in one email that her appearance allowed her to go anywhere undetected, saying it was “an honor & great pleasure to die or kill for” jihad.
The rash of cases of so-called home-grown terrorists is a relatively new phenomenon in the United States.
LaRose’s case was seen as an indication of an alarming new development in which militants were drawn not from Muslim immigrant communities but from Americans born and raised in the United States.
The Department of Justice said LaRose and her co-conspirators recruited men on the Internet to wage violent jihad in South Asia and Europe.
They also sought to recruit women on the Internet who had passports and the ability to travel to and around Europe in support of violent jihad, it added.
A second woman, and a friend of LaRose, was also charged in the case after she flew back to the United States and surrendered to authorities.
Former Colorado resident Jamie Paulin-Ramirez was charged with conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists.
The Department of Justice said in April that the 31-year-old had traveled with LaRose “to and around Europe to participate in and in support of violent jihad.”
She is due to stand trial in May.