A cast of international characters with alter egos like Jihad Jane and Black Flag, connect online before meeting in a European city to plot the assassination of a Swedish cartoonist. Sounds like a page-turner. It is however, the bare bones of a very true story about an unlikely terror cell that came together in a one-bedroom apartment in Waterford city centre. Ciaran Cassidy, director of the documentary Jihad Jane, spoke to Ryan Tubridy about this fascinating story of a woman who went looking for love online, but ended up at the centre of a terror plot.
Ciaran explained how Pennsylvanian resident Colleen La Rose (aka Jihad Jane) met Waterford based Ali Charaf Damache (aka Black Flag) and Colorado woman Jamie Ramirez, in a chat room. Colleen had already become somewhat radicalised online and Damache was offering the opportunity to come to Ireland, form a terror cell and receive the relevant training to carry out the assassination of Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks. He also promised marriage.
Colleen landed in Waterford in 2009, unaware that Damache had also invited Jamie Ramirez and her child to come too. Neither woman expected to find the other there.
“They had a lot of plans online, they’d talked a lot, they’d seen each other’s avatars, but they’d never met each other. Then all of a sudden reality came crashing in when they’re all sitting in this one bedroom apartment in the centre of Waterford. One of the first things Damache was looking for was Jamie’s ATM card because he didn’t have any money.”
The adventure Colleen had imagined from her interactions online was in stark contrast to the reality of life in Waterford.
“Tension existed between the women in the apartment and as it played out over the next month or so, the relationship deteriorated.”
It also seemed as though Damache’s claims of having a training camp staffed by his Jihadi brothers in arms, were inflated at best.
“From Colleen’s perspective … it never really got off the ground, Lars Vilks didn’t get a mention any more and she started losing interest.”
Disillusioned, Colleen decided to cut her losses and share information with the FBI in order to get her home. She claimed to be unaware that conspiracy to commit murder was a crime, believing that because no one was harmed, no crime was committed. Her naivety was further illustrated when she decided to come clean to the authorities.
“She went up to the Garda station in Waterford and looked for the FBI department.”
Eventually Colleen would make contact with the FBI, but a different reality was waiting for her when she landed in the US.
“She saw this as kind of an adventure, this was fun, this was exciting. Her lawyer always contends that she thought she would just tell the truth about what had happened and then she would be shown the door … She spent 8 years in prison.”
You can find out more about Black Flag’s life in Ireland, Colleen’s brutal back story and how the FBI discovered the cell, in the full interview on The Ryan Tubridy Show, here.
Ciaran Cassidy’s radio documentary The Story of Jihad Jane, part of RTÉ Radio 1’s Documentary on One, is available here.
Jihad Jane is on release in selected cinemas nationwide, you can watch the official trailer here.
Jan Ní Fhlanagáin
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