Published February 27, 2013
DUBLIN – An Algerian man wanted by American authorities over the abortive "Jihad Jane" plot to assassinate a Swedish artist was arrested while leaving an Irish courthouse Wednesday and could face U.S. extradition demands within hours.
Ali Charaf Damache, 47, had just walked free from a court in Waterford, southeast Ireland, after three years in an Irish prison when detectives acting on an American extradition warrant rearrested and escorted him, handcuffed, to an unmarked police car. Court officials said his extradition proceedings could begin Thursday in Dublin High Court.
The FBI and U.S. Justice Department accuse Damache of being the ringleader behind an unrealized 2009 conspiracy to target artist Lars Vilks in Sweden over his series of drawings depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad as a dog. Muslim extremists in Iraq had offered a $100,000 reward for anyone who killed Vilks, who was never attacked.
U.S. prosecutors say Damache, who has lived in Ireland since 2000, recruited two U.S. women via jihadist web sites to help him target Vilks. One of the women who billed herself as "Jihad Jane," Colleen LaRose, was arrested by the FBI soon after she returned from Ireland in September 2009. Damache married the other woman, Jamie Paulin Ramirez, in a Muslim ceremony on the day she arrived in Ireland from Colorado that same month. Ramirez and Damache were arrested in their Waterford home in March 2010; she voluntarily returned to the United States to face charges there.
Both LaRose, now 49, and Ramirez, now 34, have pleaded guilty — LaRose to conspiring to kill Vilks, Ramirez to lesser charges of aiding terrorists — and are imprisoned in the United States pending their sentencing, which has been repeatedly delayed. LaRose faces up to life in prison, Ramirez a maximum 15 years.
Irish detectives investigating Damache's links to both women trawled his telephone records and discovered he had telephoned a Michigan attorney, Majed Moughni, the lead organizer of an Arab-American protest in Detroit called to denounce Islamic extremists. Moughni told police he received a telephoned death threat the day after that January 2010 demonstration — and taped it.
Damache had pleaded not guilty to Irish charges of making death threats until Tuesday, when prosecutors played the audiotape. A voice identified as Damache's could be heard telling Moughni: "If you were in front of me, I would shoot you. I would put a bullet in your head."
On Wednesday, Damache's lawyers said their client was changing his plea to guilty and wanted to say sorry to Moughni. The presiding judge in Waterford Circuit Court, Donagh McDonagh, described the threat as premeditated and frightening. He gave Damache a four-year sentence but suspended the final year, which meant he was eligible for immediate release given his jail time already served.
He was rearrested within minutes of leaving the courtroom.
Vilks is one of two Scandinavian artists to infuriate Muslims with illustrations denigrating Muhammad, the central figure of Islam, who isn't supposed to be depicted visually at all according to Muslim tradition. The other artist, Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, was threatened in 2010 by an ax-wielding Somali who broke into his home, but police shot and wounded the attacker while the artist hid in a specially barricaded panic room. Westergaard's 2005 newspaper cartoons depicting Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban sparked street protests and violence against Scandinavian embassies in several predominantly Muslim countries.