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Thu, 03 Jul 2014 18:41:37 +0000
(ARVADA, Colo.) -- A 19-year-old American who was charged with conspiracy to provide support to terrorists when she allegedly tried to board a plane to meet a jihadist she claimed to have fallen in love with over the Internet had been warned by federal authorities about the danger of her activities for months.
Shannon Maureen Conley attempted to get on a plane in Denver on April 8 in an effort to fly to Turkey, by way of Germany, in order to get to Syria, authorities said.
Conley had several interviews with police and FBI agents over the course of the six months leading up to that moment -- and the meetings reveal that she repeatedly spoke about her support of Jihad and how she wanted to associate with terrorists in the hope of helping them, the charging document claimed.
After Conley was arrested, the FBI was able to obtain warrants to search her parents' home in Arvada, Colorado, where she had been living and found DVDs and CDs that were labelled Anwar al-Awlaki, the name of the radical Islamic cleric known for his extreme rants and support of Jihad. Her parents also previously told FBI agents that there were firearms in their home and their daughter knew how to use them.
The charging documents against the teen state that the Colorado Bureau of Investigation first became aware of her suspicious activity this past November. She had been attending Sunday programs at the Faith Bible Chapel for over a month, but on Nov. 5, administrators became concerned about her behavior and alerted the police.
They saw Conley, a certified nurse's aide, "wandering around and taking notes in a notebook that appeared to FBC staff to be consistent with taking notes of various locations and the layout of the campus," according to the FBI criminal complaint.
Two days after administrators first raised their concerns about Conley, police interviewed her about the suspicious behavior. Conley told the police she "wanted to meet people of other faiths and learn about them" and that is why she attended Faith Bible Chapel.
"I hate those people," she said to the interviewers when asked about the members of the Faith Bible Church.
"Conley stated that [she] does not like Israel or FBC's active and vocal support for Israel," the criminal complaint explained.
"After a while, Conley noticed she was being followed and felt they treated her like a terrorist. Conley stated that she reasoned that, 'If they think I'm a terrorist, I'll give them something to think I am.' She started keeping a notebook and acted like she was diagramming the church to alarm them," it continued.
She went on to talk about jihad and how she believes that "it is okay to harm innocents if they are part of a target" during an attack, and "repeatedly referred to US military bases as 'targets'".
The federal account of her meetings with authorities, as reported in the charging document, shows how her rhetoric grew increasingly aggressive in her next recorded interview with authorities, which took place Dec. 6, by which point she openly admitted that she had joined the U.S. Army Explorers program in order to gain insight into how the military works.
"She said she intended to use that training to go overseas to wage Jihad. She also intended to train Islamic Jihadi fighters in US military tactics," the criminal complaint states. "She further stated that if she is not allowed to fight because she is a woman, she will use her medical training to aid Jihadi fighters."
Just over two weeks later, an FBI agent met with Conley again, wherein the agent warned her that the jihad attacks that she was speaking about were illegal but that did not change her mind.
"When asked if she still wanted to carry out the plans, knowing they are illegal, Conley said that she does," according to the criminal complaint.
Reached by ABC News, Conley's public defender said he had no comment. Conley's father and sister also declined to comment.
The FBI agent first learned about Conley's alleged suitor after receiving a phone call from Shannon's father on March 14, authorities said.
John Conley called the agent and said that his daughter had met a 32-year-old Tunisian man and he learned about their relationship when he found his daughter talking to the man via Skype, according to the charging document. The man, whose name was redacted in the report, asked John for permission to marry his daughter and asked him to send her to Syria immediately but he said no.
The news of the FBI's detainment of the girl was not made public until June 26, more than two months after they stopped her from boarding the plane, when a judge ordered the case documents to be unsealed.
Converting to Islam
Conley was interviewed in January and told the agent about her plans to go to the Middle East by way of Morocco, and once she was out of the United States she decided that she would call her family and tell them of her Jihad plans once "there was nothing they would be able to do about it."
The FBI agent met with Conley again in February and March -- which marked the teen's fifth and sixth interviews with authorities -- and she repeated her plans to participate in Jihad in both. The criminal complaint states that the agent spoke with her parents after their fifth meeting with Shannon, and they told officials about their understanding of their daughter's religious beliefs.
They said the teen had converted to Islam but did not believe that "she had any interest in extremist Islam or violent Jihad."
Her father told the agents that she had described Jihad "as struggles to help the oppressed or the poor" but the agent went on to explain that she had been overt in their meetings about her violent intentions.
The agents asked Shannon's parents, John and Ana Conley, to have a "candid" conversation about her religious beliefs. Two weeks later, the pair called the agent to discuss their findings. John Conley said their daughter's beliefs were "far more extreme than he had previously thought".
"[Shannon] Conley believed she, as a Muslim, needed to marry young and be confrontational in her support of Islam," the agent recalled John Conley explaining, according to the criminal complaint.
Her parents were not the only ones to become aware of her conversion to Islam, as neighbor Brenda Herrara told ABC News Radio that she noticed a change in her dress, saying that her more recent wardrobe matched Islamic standards.
"She would wear shorts and everything when they first moved in and then all of a sudden she started wearing those maybe six months after they moved here," Herrara said, though it is unclear exactly when the family moved into the neighborhood of Arvada, Colorado.
Trying to Stop Her
Conley's seventh interview, in March, "was an overt attempt to dissuade Conley from violent criminal activity and give her the opportunity to turn away from her intention to participate in supporting terrorist activities," according to the criminal complaint.
In that meeting, the agent warned her about the illegality of such mission and Conley said "she would rather be in prison than do nothing."
Trying to Stop Her -- Again
In a follow up meeting with the agent two weeks later, John Conley "stated conclusively they did not provide their blessing, nor their support for her travel and marriage."
The agent confronted Shannon about her "suitor" in their last meeting on April 4. She did not explicitly tell the agent how she got in touch with the man, but she claimed he was a fighter for ISIS, a terrorist group that has gained international attention in light of their violent actions in Iraq.
"Conley said she planned to travel next week to meet her suitor in Syria and that they intended to reside near the Turkish border. Conley stated the airline ticket was purchased for her," the criminal complaint stated.
"Conley told investigators she planned to be the suitor's housewife and the camp nurse. When Conley told the suitor she wants to provide his camp with medical services and training, he told her that was good because they needed more nurses," it continued.
The agent stressed the dangers that come with terrorist involvement and Conley said: "I know things can go terribly wrong."
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