LONDON // Four Irish residents, including a US woman, remained in custody last night as anti-terrorism police continued to probe the Irish connection in the "Jihad Jane" plot to murder Lars Vilks, a Swedish cartoonist. Three of the seven people taken into custody in raids on homes in the Republic of Ireland on Tuesday - a couple originally from Algeria and a Palestinian woman - were released without charge late on Friday night.
It was the arrest of the seven at addresses in Cork and Waterford that led to disclosure by the US justice department that Colleen LaRose, a 46-year-old US-born convert to Islam, had been held since October on charges of plotting to kill Mr Vilks, whose 2007 cartoon portraying the Prophet Mohammed had offended Muslims worldwide. Ms LaRose is alleged to have used the names Jihad Jane and Fatima LaRose on websites as she attempted to recruit people in South Asia, Europe and the United States to wage a bloody jihad.
Last August, she flew to Europe, initially visiting the Netherlands and inquiring about residency in Sweden, before flying to Ireland for two weeks in September. Amateur internet sleuths, who had been tracking Ms LaRose's internet activities for two years, had alerted the US authorities early last year after she made an alleged appeal for funds to sponsor terrorist activity. The CIA alerted the Garda, the Irish police, who kept her under surveillance throughout her stay in Ireland. Her main point of contact, according to sources in Dublin yesterday, was 49-year-old Sharif Damache, an Algerian who settled in Ireland in 2000 and who became a naturalised Irish citizen two years ago.
Mr Damache, who was arrested at his home in Waterford, remained in custody last night along with his wife, Jamie Paulin-Ramirez, a 31-year-old convert to Islam from Colorado. Christine Mott, her mother, told the Associated Press that her daughter disappeared in September and later told her family she had gone to Ireland with her six-year-old son and married an Algerian whom she had met online. Mrs Mott said her daughter had announced to her family a year ago that she was converting to Islam and began wearing headscarves.
"It came out of left field," Mrs Mott said. "I knew she was talking to these people online. What caused her to turn her back on her country, on her family and become this person? I don't know how or why. "All I know is she was in contact with this Jihad Jane. The only thing I could think of is that they brainwashed her." Sources within the Garda have indicated, however, that her husband remained of much greater interest to them than Ms Paulin-Ramirez.
"We are not linking those arrested to any al Qa'eda cell," one official said. "The central question is whether any of those in custody were directly involved in a plot to kill Mr Vilks." The arrests on Tuesday were made in Waterford city, Tramore and Ballincollig. Seven houses, an office and a bakery were raided and investigators were continuing to pore over e-mails and internet chatroom exchanges from seized computers.
An Algerian couple who run a bakery in Ballincollig - Ghamrassan Moulay-Slimane and his wife, Iles - were released on Friday evening, along with Nadah Sameh, a Palestinian woman from Tramore. Her husband, Abd al Salam Mansur al Jahani, a Libyan who has been living in Ireland for almost a decade, remained in custody along with Danijel Orsos, a 26-year-old Croatian convert, and Mr Damache and his American wife.
Ms LaRose is understood to have initially contacted like-minded people through social networking sites and then e-mailed passwords to people so they could communicate on private chatroom sites. When she visited Europe, it is alleged, she made personal contact with some of those she was hoping to recruit to help in the operation to kill Mr Vilks. She was arrested when she returned to the United States in October.
In addition to police and intelligence agencies in Ireland and the United States, the UK's security services, Sapo (the Swedish police agency) and police forces in North Africa have been involved in the investigation. Aside from those taken into custody in Ireland, police have also interviewed about 25 other people who personally knew those arrested in a bid to ascertain if attempts had been made to radicalise them.
The Irish Independent newspaper reported yesterday: "Gardai will attempt to establish over the weekend whether any of the contacts between them amounted to a breach of the criminal legislation here. "Other members of the Irish-based group were regarded as facilitators, who were prepared to provide logistical support for Ms LaRose, if necessary. "But they will not face charges unless there is evidence to show they had knowledge of her alleged plans to kill Mr Vilks in Sweden. They did not communicate directly with Ms LaRose but were aware she held strong views."