Thursday, March 11, 2010

360 News Briefs

'Jihad Jane' Indictment Shows Terror's Evolution

The self-described "Jihad Jane" who thought her blond hair and blue eyes would let her blend in as she sought to kill an artist in Sweden is a rare case of an American woman aiding in foreign terrorism and shows the evolution of the global threat, authorities say.

The suburban Philadelphia woman, Colleen R. LaRose, is accused in the indictment filed Tuesday of trying to recruit fighters, as well as agreeing to murder the artist, marry a terrorism suspect so he could move to Europe and martyr herself if necessary.

LaRose is "one of only a few such cases nationwide in which females have been charged with terrorism violations," said U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Dean Boyd.

LaRose, 46, of Pennsburg but with close ties to south Texas, has been held without bail since her Oct. 15 arrest in Philadelphia. Authorities said the case shows how terrorist groups are looking to recruit Americans to carry out their goals.

LaRose had targeted Swedish artist Lars Vilks and had online discussions about her plans with at least one of several suspects apprehended over that plot Tuesday in Ireland, according to a U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity because the official wasn't authorized to discuss details of the investigation.

Irish police said Wednesday those arrested were two Algerians, two Libyans, a Palestinian, a Croatian and an American woman married to one of the Algerian suspects. They were not identified by name.

A U.S. Department of Justice spokesman wouldn't confirm the case is related to Vilks, who angered Muslims by depicting the Prophet Muhammad with the body of a dog. At least three Swedish newspapers published the cartoon Wednesday, arguing that it had news value or was a free-speech symbol.

The indictment charges that LaRose, who also used the name Fatima LaRose online, agreed to try killing the target on orders from the unnamed terrorists she met online, and traveled to Europe in August to do so.

LaRose indicated in her online conversations that she thought her blond hair and blue eyes would help her move freely in Sweden to carry out the attack, the indictment said.

LaRose is a convert to Islam who actively recruited others, including at least one unidentified American, and her online messages expressed her willingness to become a martyr and her impatience to take action, according to the indictment and the U.S. official.

Killing the target would be her goal "till I achieve it or die trying," she wrote a south Asian suspect in March 2009, according to the indictment. Her federal public defender, Mark T. Wilson, declined to comment Tuesday.

U.S. Attorney Michael Levy said the indictment doesn't link LaRose to any organized terror groups.

In recent years, the only other women charged in the U.S. with terror violations were lawyer Lynne Stewart, convicted of helping imprisoned blind Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman communicate with his followers, and Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani scientist found guilty of shooting at U.S. personnel in Afghanistan while yelling, "Death to Americans!"

But neither case involved the kind of plotting attributed to LaRose - a woman charged with trying to foment a terror conspiracy to kill someone overseas. Stewart has insisted she is "not a traitor," while Siddiqui has accused U.S. authorities of lying about her.

LaRose called herself JihadJane in a YouTube video in which she said she was "desperate to do something somehow to help" ease the suffering of Muslims, the indictment said. According to the 11-page document, she agreed to obtain residency in a European country and marry one of the terrorists to enable him to live there.

She moved to Europe in August with her boyfriend's stolen passport and intended to give it to one of her "brothers," the indictment said. She hoped to "live and train with jihadists and to find and kill" the targeted artist, it said.

LaRose also agreed to provide financial help to her coconspirators in Asia and Europe, the indictment charged. LaRose had an initial court appearance on Oct. 16 but didn't enter a plea. No further court dates have been set.

Her boyfriend, Kurt Gorman, told the Philadelphia Daily News that the two met in Ennis, Texas, several years ago and that nothing seemed amiss until she packed up her clothes and moved out of their apartment in Pennsburg without warning in August, the day after his father's funeral.

A few weeks later, two FBI agents visited him, and in November or December he was subpoenaed by a federal grand jury to testify, Gorman said.

Obama Decries Washington In Health Care Push

President Obama denounced waste, inefficiency and downright fraud in the government's health care system on Wednesday as he sought to rally public support for his revamped overhaul plan. "Improper payments cost taxpayers almost $100 billion last year alone," Obama said at a rally in this St. Louis suburb.

He said such payments amounted to more than is spent on the Education Department and the Small Business Administration combined, and that if there was a "Department of Improper Payments" it would be "one of the largest agencies in the government."

Obama pressed Congress to act on the health care overhaul measure without further delay.

Pelosi: Dems Close On Health Care Agreement

At the Capitol, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that after days of secretive talks, key Democrats were "pretty close" to accord on additional subsidies to help lower-income families purchase insurance, more aid for states under the Medicaid program for low-income Americans and additional help for seniors who face a coverage gap under current Medicare drug plans.

Pelosi, D-Calif., offered no details, and other officials cautioned that any final deal would hinge on cost estimates under preparation at the Congressional Budget Office. Pelosi said as she left the Capitol late Wednesday that the unresolved issues were mostly "minor, just technical things." She and other leaders planned to brief rank-and-file lawmakers Thursday morning and Pelosi said she hoped the remaining issues could be largely resolved then.

At stake is the fate of Obama's call to expand health care to some 30 million people who lack insurance and to ban insurance company practices such as denial of coverage on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions. He also hopes to begin to reduce the rise in the cost of health care nationally.

Almost every American would be affected by the legislation, which would change the ways people receive and pay for health care, from the most routine checkup to the most expensive, lifesaving treatment.


Bank's Unusual Pitch: Higher Overdraft Fees

A direct mail campaign sweeping across Georgia targets bank customers with an unusual sales pitch. The bank is actually asking for permission to charge expensive overdraft fees.

A new federal law says if you try to overdraw your account with a debit card, the bank will soon need your permission to penalize you. Getting you to say yes is now a cottage industry.

Consumer Advisor Clark Howard explains how it works:

"It allows banks to false balance you and tell you you have money when you don't, to approve transactions when you don't, just so they can generate overdraft fees," Howard said.

Howard says you should deny the protection. Then, the bank will deny transactions when you don't have the money in your account to cover it.

Police: Cop Tested Positive For Cocaine

Former College Park Police Officer Gary Clements tested positive for having cocaine in his system when he backed into another car while transporting two prisoners, according to investigators. After the accident, the officer had to take a drug test.

"After the drug test, it came back positive for cocaine," said Interim College Park Chief Ron Fears.

Police said Clements told them he had the drug in his system after he tested the drug by tasting it after he pursued suspects who got away.

"He did some of the old type of testing. He tested with his finger," said Fears.

Clements resigned, in lieu of termination. The city of College Park is investigating why its police department allowed the officer suspected to resign instead of being terminated. Strangely, the chief allowed the officer to resign and is not intent on having the officer face charges after testing positive.

College Park Mayor Jack Longino is upset over the incident.

"If he had drugs in his system, he will not be allowed to resign. He will be fired! And I want him charged with driving under the influence!" said Longino.

AP; Reuters; WSB; AJC.

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