'She was a larger-than-life character' - Irish film director speaks about 'Jihad Jane' ahead of movie release

'She was a larger-than-life character' - Irish film director speaks about 'Jihad Jane' ahead of movie release

An Irish film director said he was still in touch with “Jihad Jane”, a wannabe American terrorist who was sentenced to 10 years in a US prison after plotting murder in Waterford.

Ciarán Cassidy said Colleen Renee LaRose, was trying to get on with her life after being released from jail.

“I’m in touch with Colleen on and off to see how she is readjusting. She is good. She seems to be adjusting well and seems to be in a very healthy place,” said Mr Cassidy.

The filmmaker’s documentary, Jihad Jane, which will be released on Friday, tells the extraordinary story of LaRose and one of the most farcical terrorist cells in history.

The 56-year-old woman, who had an appalling life after being abused from childhood, was radicalised on the internet and turned to Islam announcing she wanted to wage Jihad war and become a martyr.

She expressed her views openly on the web ringing alarm bells at the FBI.

Director Ciarán Cassidy revealed that agents called to her home in Florida and warned her to stop.

But this seemed to spur her on and she flew to Waterford where she believed she would be trained as a terrorist for a mission to kill a Swedish artist, Lars Vilks, who had allegedly insulted Islam.

She was joined by another American woman, Jamie Paulin Ramirez, who married their cell leader, Ali Charaf Damache, the day after meeting him.

But Damache gave no training and possibly used his role just to meet women.

Colleen Renee LaRose in March 2010. Pic: WPVI-TV via AFP
Colleen Renee LaRose in March 2010. Pic: WPVI-TV via AFP

After months of inactivity, LaRose contacted the FBI and told them she was coming home and was arrested for conspiracy to murder.

Gardaí watched the Waterford house for six months before arresting Ramirez and Damache who were extradited to the US in 2010 and imprisoned. Ramirez had only left the house four times.

Jihad Jane tells the astonishing story behind the headlines that went around the world.

Mr Cassidy said he made the film because he was intrigued by the Irish part of the story.

“There are farcical elements to it but they were threatening to kill someone so you had to treat it credibly,” he said.

“When they were arrested there was a clear picture created that this was a serious, credible threat and that they were dangerous.

“But when you see the film and you see Colleen get in the car with all her teddy bears you see a different side of who these people are and what was going on. We were interested in telling that side of the story.”

Both women were extremely damaged. LaRose was raped from the age of eight by her alcoholic father and met a man who pimped her out from 13 and introduced her to drugs. She married one of her customers at 16 who rented her out to other lorry drivers.

Ramirez was already married and divorced three times and admitted she had no self-esteem and no friends before she converted to Islam.

An undated image obtained on March 9, 2010, of a photo from a website authorities say was maintained by terror suspect Colleen Renee LaRose. Pic: Fox News/AFP
An undated image obtained on March 9, 2010, of a photo from a website authorities say was maintained by terror suspect Colleen Renee LaRose. Pic: Fox News/AFP

“Colleen was very personable. She had an extremely bleak background and talked about her anger and alienation but she chats away to people,” said Cassidy.

“She was popular in prison and her attorney found her warm. That was part of the contradiction with Colleen, she was a larger-than-life character. If the circumstances of her childhood had not been so extreme she would have ended up somewhere very different."

Colleen said she might have killed someone if she was trained in the right way but a lot of people don’t think so.

“She was fairly transparent. She would be very upfront with people if they asked her.”

Cell leader Damache was just as incompetent, said Cassidy.

“If he was a sophisticated terrorist trying to form a terror group he would never have recruited Colleen.

“The first thing she did was post remarks on the internet and was then talking to people in different counties and was very vocal about her support. She was clearly being watched.

“Damache went about his way very stupidly. But we had to try to find the balance between farce and ineptitude and knowing he only had to get it right once.

“You see the indictments against them and you would think things would escalate when they meet up in Waterford and that didn’t happen.

“Was Damache using his position to meet women? Nobody really knows.”

* For a full interview with director Ciarán Cassidy see Thursday's Irish Examiner. Jihad Jane is released on Friday.

More in this Section

The Menu: Serving up the latest food newsThe Menu: Serving up the latest food news

7 times Harry Styles had the perfect manicure7 times Harry Styles had the perfect manicure

Why you should visit Galway, European Capital of Culture 2020Why you should visit Galway, European Capital of Culture 2020

Natural health: My cat's energy levels are lowNatural health: My cat's energy levels are low


Latest Showbiz

Celebrities such as Hugh Jackman were among those to offer their support to young Quaden Bayles.#WeStandWithQuaden: Internet rallies round bullied boy, 9, in viral video

Kodaline have added three extra dates at The Olympia Theatre after their first three Dublin shows sold out this morning.Kodaline announce extra Dublin dates after selling out three shows

The Channel 4 journalist said the main reason behind the move from Mongolia to Namibia was ‘caution’.Krishnan Guru-Murthy backs Sport Relief trek relocation over coronavirus fears

Brown, 93, stunned fans with her surprise announcement.Dot Cotton’s most memorable storylines as actress June Brown leaves the soap

More From The Irish Examiner