When U.S. authorities announced the arrest of Colleen LaRose in 2010, they called her the new face of terrorism. The story of “Jihad Jane,” as she called herself, caused an instant sensation and seemed to portend a frightening new challenge to America. The 45-year-old suburban Philadelphia woman had converted to Islam, linked up with al Qaeda operatives online and traveled to Europe in an aborted effort to kill a cartoonist who had lampooned the Prophet Mohammad. What made the blond-haired, green-eyed LaRose such a valuable operative, prosecutors said, was her ability to blend in. She shattered, as one put it, “any lingering thought that we can spot a terrorist based on appearance.” When Reuters investigated the government's ominous declarations, it unearthed a dramatically different story. Through six months of painstaking reporting that took him across the United States and overseas, reporter John Shiffman found that the plot was in many ways more preposterous — and tragic — than it was perilous. LaRose herself, Shiffman learned, was repeatedly raped as a young girl by her own father. His searing account of the Jihad Jane case raises crucial questions about how far the American justice system should go in punishing amateur plotters who never come close to succeeding — and whether the U.S. government has exaggerated the threat posed by people such as Colleen LaRose. The cartoonist she allegedly plotted to kill told Reuters that the government should let LaRose off for time served.