- Published on Thursday, 03 July 2014 21:03
A 19-year-old Denver woman has been arrested on terrorism charges for allegedly plotting to travel to Syria and join an Islamist extremist she had met online and was planning to marry.
Shannon Maureen Conley was arrested in April while trying to board a flight to Turkey with the alleged goal of meeting up with members of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group, also known as ISIS.
According to a criminal complaint filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, Conley conspired to commit an offense against the United States.
When questioned by officials, the teenager freely admitted that she wanted to use her American military training to wage jihad on the U.S., CBS Denver reported.
Conley told investigators she liked the idea of 'guerrilla warfare because she could do it alone.'
Court papers released Wednesday indicate that Ms Conley told the Joint Terrorism Task Force that she was a Muslim convert.
'If they think I'm a terrorist, I'll give them something to think I am,' the 19-year-old allegedly declared, referring to staffers at a local church where she had been taken classes.
Conley had met someone known to her as 'Y.M' online who said he wanted to marry her and help her join the ranks of Islamic extremists in Syria, court documents stated.
He suitor apparently was a 32-year-old Tunisian man who claimed to be fighting for ISIS
FBI agents have become aware of Conley's communication with the foreign national and reached out to the 19-year-old and her parents, John and Ana Conley, urging her not to go to Syria, NBC reported.
But according to a federal official, Conley could not be dissuaded. He added that the 19-year-old suffers from mental problems.
Mr Conley told agents that his daughter described jihad to him as a struggle to help the poor and the downtrodden, but she herself had been plagued by doubts about what was expected of her as a Muslim woman.
'She conceded her knowledge of Islam was based solely on her own research that she conducted on the Internet,' the affidavit said.
According to the charging papers cited by The Denver Channel, Ms Conley was fully aware she was speaking to federal agents when she aired her favorable view of jihad and declared that law enforcement agents are legitimate targets.
Court documents show that the 19-year-old held nothing back, detailing for the FBI agents her plan to journey to Syria and use her training as a nurse to help ISIS' cause.
Shannon Conley had been warned several times by investigators that she could be arrested if she follows through with her scheme, but the 19-year-old allegedly declared she would rather go to prison than turn away from jihad.
Conley also allegedly rejected the notion of helping Muslims in her capacity as a registered nurse, saying that she wanted to be a jihadi fighter rather than humanitarian.
Shannon's father told the agents that he once walked in on the 19-year-old talking to her extremist boyfriend on Skype, and the Tunisian national used the opportunity to ask Mr Shannon for his blessing for the couple to marry and live together in Syria as soon as possible.
But the teenager’s parents informed her that they did not support her relationship the alleged ISIS militant, or her plans to relocate to the Middle East.
Shannon was aware that her faith required her to secure her parents’ blessing before she could get married, but she decided to flout that custom and move to Syria, where she was planning to work as a nurse in an ISIS camp.
When John Conley found out that his daughter had a one-way ticket to Turkey for April 8, he contacted the feds.
‘It's a difficult time for us,’ her mother, Ana Conley, told CNN on Wednesday.
According to the mother’s Facebook page, she has four daughters, with Shannon being the youngest one.
Neighbors in Arvada told the station KDVR that Shannon has undergone a drastic transformation over the past six months.
‘I would see her in shorts and then all the sudden she started wearing those [Islamic] clothes maybe six months after they moved here,’ said Brenda Herrera.
On her Facebook page, Shannon changed her name to Halima, which is loosely translated as ‘mild-mannered’ and ‘generous,’ and called herself a ‘Slave of Allah,’
When Conley was detained at Denver International Airport April 8, she had a one-way plane ticket to Turkey via Frankfurt, Germany. Her final destination was Syria.
Officials also seized propaganda about Jihad and Al Qaeda from Conley’s luggage, along with CDs and DVDs labelled 'Anwar Al-Awlaki.'
Al-Awlaki was a suspected American-born terrorist from Colorado who was killed in a drone strike in Yemen in 2011.
Ms Conley's arrest came following an eight-month FBI investigation.
Federal agents first became aware of the teenager last November when she was spotted by a security guard taking notes at the Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada - the site of a 2007 shooting that left two missionaries dead.
The leader of the congregation, Pastor George Morrison, contacted the authorities to report that Conley has been seen wandering around the campus on Ward Road.
‘Conley made spontaneous statements to church staff to the effect of: “Why is the church worried about a terrorist attack?' and, that terrorists are: “…not allowed to kill aging adults and little children,"’ the criminal complaint obtained by Denver Post said.
An Arvada police detective spoke to Conley about her presence at FBC, and the teenager allegedly told the investigator that 'she hated those people.'
Asked about her note-taking on campus, the 19-year-old explained that she noticed church staff following her and pretended like she was diagramming the layout of the church to make them worry.
In December 2013, Conley revealed to an FBI agent that she had signed up for the U.S. Army Explorers to train in military tactics in the hopes of passing on her knowledge to jihadi fighters. A short time later, the 19-year-old told a federal official that she will be ready to wage jihad in a year.
Ms Conley also shared her opinions about harming innocent people in the name of jihad.
‘To Conley, it is okay to harm innocents if they are part of a target. She felt that if wives, children, and chaplains visiting a military base are killed during an attack, it is acceptable because they should not have been at a legitimate target,’ according to court documents.
An investigation into Conley’s communications has revealed hat she first came in contact with her Tunisian suitor 'Y.M' online where the two bonded over their views of Islam and the need to wage holy war against all non-believers .