FBI: 19-year-old Denver-area woman aimed to go to Syria for jihad; she was arrested at airport

Sadie Gurman / The Associated Press
July 3, 2014 11:23 AM

The home of Ana Maria and John Conley is pictured in Arvada, Colo., on Thursday, July 3, 2014, is where their daughter Shannon Maureen Conley, 19, lived until her arrest by the FBI in April. FBI agents tried more than once to discourage Conley, who said she was intent on waging jihad in the Middle East before arresting her in April as she boarded a flight she hoped would ultimately get her to Syria, court documents unsealed Wednesday show.(AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

DENVER - FBI agents tried more than once to discourage a 19-year-old suburban Denver woman who said she was intent on waging jihad in the Middle East before they arrested her in April as she boarded a flight at the start of a trip to Syria, newly unsealed court documents show.

Shannon Maureen Conley had told agents she wanted to use her military training from the U.S. Army Explorers in a holy war overseas, even though she knew it was illegal, according to the federal court records released Wednesday. Her "legitimate targets of attack" included U.S. military facilities, government employees and public officials, the documents say.

Conley, a radicalized Muslim convert, was arrested April 8 at Denver International Airport, telling agents she planned to live with a suitor she met online, apparently a Tunisian man who claimed to be fighting for an al-Qaida splinter group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The militant group also known as ISIL or ISIS has recently overrun parts of Iraq and Syria.

Conley has been charged with conspiring to help a foreign terrorist organization. Her federal public defender did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

A nurse's aide, Conley told investigators she planned to fly to Turkey and then travel to Syria to become a housewife and a nurse at the man's camp, providing medical services and training.

Conley lived with her parents in a modest but neat ranch home at the end of a cul-de-sac in the Denver suburb of Arvada. A statute of St. Francis stands in the yard outside near some flowers.

According to court documents, her parents, Ana and John Conley, told FBI agents that there were several firearms in the home and that their daughter had recently taken one of the rifles to practice shooting at a shooting range.

John Conley declined to comment Thursday.

FBI agents became aware of Conley's growing interest in extremism in November after she started talking about terrorism with employees of a suburban Denver church who found her wandering around and taking notes on the layout of the campus, according to the court documents. The church, Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada, was the scene of a 2007 shooting in which a man killed two missionary workers.

She spoke with agents several times after that, telling them of her desire for jihad, the records state. The agents tried openly to dissuade her, urging her instead to support Muslims through humanitarian efforts, which she told them was not an option.

"Conley felt that Jihad is the only answer to correct the wrongs against the Muslim world," the documents say.

Agents encouraged Conley's parents to get her to meet with elders at her mosque to find more moderate options. Her parents knew she had converted to Islam but were apparently unaware of her extremism, authorities said.


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