PHILADELPHIA — A Colorado woman admitted Tuesday she helped a terrorist cell that hoped to incite Islamic holy war, and her lawyer said she was "part of something that was much larger, much more complex than she ever knew."
Jamie Paulin-Ramirez, 32, of Leadville, Colo., conspired with others to get military training in South Asia and moved to Ireland in 2009 to join the group, federal prosecutors said.
Court papers released Tuesday give a glimpse of the goals of the Algerian man she married in Ireland. Her husband sought to recruit "brothers & sisters" to train with the group known as al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, prosecutors said; the group is an al-Qaida offshoot that has focused its efforts inside Algeria and has never attempted an attack on the U.S.
The documents also say he wanted to recruit people to train with Pakistan's lead intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence. The agency, while a sometimes unreliable ally for the U.S., is also an essential partner for combatting terrorism inside Pakistan.
Shortly after arriving in Ireland in September 2009, Paulin-Ramirez married him in an Islamic ceremony. The couple had never before met in person. She knew the marriage, along with her Western looks and passport, would prove useful to the group, prosecutors said.
Her lawyer called her a sincere religious convert who married "for the love of Islam, not for the love of her husband."
"She ended up being part of something that was much larger, much more complex than she ever knew," lawyer Jeremy Ibrahim said.
Paulin-Ramirez voluntarily returned to the U.S. after she, her husband and five others were detained in Ireland in March 2010 as part of a terrorism probe.
Paulin-Ramirez was charged in the same case as Colleen LaRose, a Pennsylvania woman who dubbed herself "Jihad Jane" in a YouTube video that caught the attention of the FBI in 2009. LaRose, 47, of Pennsburg, pleaded guilty last month to more serious charges, admitting she had agreed to try to kill a Swedish cartoonist who had offended Muslims. She faces a life sentence.
Paulin-Ramirez, by contrast, is charged with a single conspiracy count and faces up to 15 years in prison. No dates have been set for either woman's sentencing.
"Today's guilty plea by Jamie Ramirez, coupled with that of Colleen LaRose last month, underscores the evolving nature of the terrorist threat we face," acting Assistant Attorney General Todd Hinnen said in a statement.
Paulin-Ramirez wore a black head covering to court Tuesday and was nearly inaudible as she answered questions of U.S. District Judge Petrese Tucker.
She was expecting a child when she first appeared in court in the U.S., but has since lost the pregnancy, Ibrahim said.
"You're dealing with a 32-year-old single mom from a small town in Colorado," Ibrahim said. "This has been an extremely stressful and overwhelming situation ... that's impacted her physical well-being."
Her son was taken into protective custody when she arrived to face arrest in Philadelphia, where FBI agents had opened the LaRose investigation.
Paulin-Ramirez's mother has described her in the past as a troubled mom who had the "mentality of an abused woman."
There is no evidence from court documents that LaRose ever made it to Sweden to kill artist Lars Vilks, whose 2007 depiction of the Prophet Muhammad prompted threats, although prosecutors have said she followed his activities online.
LaRose returned to Philadelphia in October 2009 to surrender, becoming one of the few women ever charged in the U.S. with terrorist activities.
LaRose's arrest was kept secret and the indictment unsealed only after Paulin-Ramirez and the six others were rounded up in Ireland months later.
Vilks has called the murder ploy "rather low-tech" – while adding that he was glad LaRose never pulled it off.