PHILADELPHIA — A Maryland teenager from Pakistan is being held in U.S. custody on terrorism charges, accused of soliciting funds and recruits to help a Pennsylvania woman known as Jihad Jane, two people close to the investigation confirm.
Juvenile charges filed last month accuse the 17-year-old of helping Colleen LaRose support overseas terrorists she had met online, they said Friday. LaRose, 48, has pleaded guilty to charges she plotted to kill a Swedish artist who had offended Muslims.
The Ellicott City, Md., teen had accepted a full scholarship to prestigious Johns Hopkins University, according to a person close to his family. Instead, he remains in custody at a youth facility in Berks County, Pa. He could have his case moved to adult court when he turns 18 next month.
According to the person, the FBI searched the family’s home near Baltimore and interviewed the teen several times at FBI headquarters without a lawyer or family member present. However, the parents had authorized the interviews.
The teen met LaRose online when he was 15, according to LaRose’s indictment and the person close to the investigation.
A law enforcement official confirmed details of his arrest to The Associated Press. Both people spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly about the sealed juvenile case. The AP is not publicizing the teen’s name because of his age.
The teen’s lawyer, Jeffrey M. Lindy, told the AP it would be “very inappropriate” for him to comment on the case, which he called “highly sensitive.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer first reported on the arrest in Friday editions.
The teen came to the U.S. four years ago and has lived with his strict, education-focused family in suburban Baltimore. An older brother attends a college honors program in engineering. The parents, legal residents, work menial jobs.
Teachers at Mt. Hebron High School remember the May graduate for his strong work ethic.
“(He) was very strong academically and an extremely hardworking student,” Howard County school district spokeswoman Patti Caplan told the AP.
The teen is accused of meeting LaRose in an online chat room in 2009.
Her indictment alleges that he solicited money for her online and circulated a questionnaire to at least one woman asking about “her beliefs and intentions with regard to jihad,” and if she had a European passport.
In soliciting funds, he pledged to forward money to LaRose, for her to pass on to the jihadists, authorities say.
“I know the sister and by Allah, all money will be transferred to her. The sister will then transfer the money to the brother via a method that I will not disclose,” he wrote in July 2009, according to the LaRose indictment.
LaRose, of Pennsburg, had dubbed herself Jihad Jane in a YouTube video that had caught the attention of the FBI by 2009.
She faces a possible life term after pleading guilty to four federal charges, including conspiracy to support terrorists and lying to the FBI. Her sentencing has not been scheduled.
LaRose, an elder caretaker in small-town Pennsylvania, had cultivated a shadow life online. She destroyed her hard drive, stole her boyfriend’s passport and moved to Ireland in August 2009. She soon persuaded another U.S. woman, Jamie Paulin-Ramirez, to join her there the following month.
Paulin-Ramirez, 32, a single mother from Colorado, had also spent long hours on the Internet before moving to Ireland with her 6-year-old son. She married an Algerian man days later.
She voluntarily returned to the U.S. after she, her husband and five others were detained in Ireland in a terror probe in March 2010. She pleaded guilty in Philadelphia this past March to a conspiracy charge and faces a maximum 15-year term.
In the view of Department of Justice officials, the charges against the homegrown, female suspects underscore “the evolving nature” of the terrorist threat.
The case now involves not just the American women but a teenage boy educated in U.S. schools.
Defense lawyer Jeremy Ibrahim, a Department of Justice veteran who represents Paulin-Ramirez and has handled a few federal juvenile cases, one involving an arson that destroyed part of Interstate 95, said the case “clearly was a difficult decision for the prosecutors.”
“However, they certainly appear to be acting in the best interest of all involved, including the American people,” Ibrahim said.
LaRose’s lawyer, public defender Mark Wilson, has not returned recent messages seeking comment about the juvenile’s arrest.
The teen is charged with providing material support to terrorists and other crimes. His diverse, academically rigorous high school was about half white and one-quarter Asian, including a fair number of students of Middle Eastern descent, Caplan said. The school, with nearly 1,500 students, is also 13 percent black and 5 percent Hispanic. The suspect did not take part in sports but won several academic honors and awards.
A Johns Hopkins spokeswoman confirmed the teen had been accepted but would not be enrolling.
The Department of Justice declined to comment on reports of his arrest.
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