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How an honour student, sex worker, and mum found their way onto the terrorist database.

A high-school drop out, an honour student, a single mother. Women with vastly different lives, who ultimately careened down a similar, dark path.

A path that means their faces aren’t just in family photo albums or on social media, but on an international database alongside some of the world’s most dangerous terrorists.

The Counter Extremism Project’s Terrorists and Extremists Database catalogues known leaders and operatives around the globe as part of the organisation’s efforts to combat the growing threat from extremist ideologies.

Among the 400 or so listings are a handful of women, featured for crimes ranging from recruitment and propaganda to foreign fighting.

One of the most notorious among them is Colleen LaRose, a woman most would know as “Jihad Jane”.

The American citizen and convicted extremist served as an online recruiter and fundraiser for an Ireland-based al Qaeda cell from her home in Pennsylvania in 2008/9, before travelling to Ireland with the intention of assassinating Lars Vilks – the Swedish cartoonist notorious for controversial illustrations depicting the prophet Muhammad.

The plan fell through, and LaRose was arrested upon her return to the US.

Jahadi Jane, aka Colleen LaRose. Image: Getty.

The years prior to LaRose's terrorist activity were filled with torment and tragedy; she was allegedly sexually abused by her own father from the age of 7 to 13, at which point she left home and became a sex worker, according to Reuters.

It's believed she later self-radicalised after streaming lectures of Anwar al-Awlaki, the late al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) cleric, and subsequently linked up with operatives online.

At her January 2014 sentencing hearing (which saw her jailed for ten years), LaRose apologised for blindly following her handlers: "I was in a trance and I couldn't see anything else," she said according to Reuters. "I don't want to be in jihad no more."

Jaelyn Young is serving a 12-year prison sentence. Image: CBS.
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Fellow American Jaelyn Young also makes the list.

The Mississippi woman was an honour student and chemistry major who once had ambitions of becoming a doctor, according to The New York Times. She's now a US federal prisoner, having been convicted on terrorism-related charges last year.

The then 19-year-old and her fiancé, Muhammad Dakhlalla, were arrested at the airport in August 2015 on their way to Syria where they planned to join and fight for Islamic terrorist group, ISIS.

She is currently serving 12 years behind bars for attempting and conspiring to knowingly provide material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organisation.

Heather Coffman. Image: NBC

Heather Elizabeth Coffman is also behind bars for her links to ISIS.

The Virginian woman used numerous Facebook accounts under various aliases expressing her support for the group and also shared jihadist contacts with a foreign national who was seeking to become a martyr in Syria.

It was lying to the F.B.I. about him that, in 2015, landed her a 54-month sentence for making false statements in an international terrorism investigation, according to the US Department of Justice.

Coffman, a single mother, worked at a shopping mall prior to her arrest.

Over the past few years, ISIS has begun recruiting Western women in unprecedented numbers, according to policy group New America. And they're aiming specifically for young women - the average age of these recruits being just 22.

Their efforts are proving more successful than most may realise.

According to George Washington University's Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, women account for approximately 13 per cent of Americans charged with ISIS-related crimes.

Tags: current-affairs , islamic-terrorism , terrorism
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