A 19-year-old Colorado woman pleaded guilty in federal court on Wednesday to conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants who have seized large parts of Syria and Iraq.
Shannon Maureen Conley has been in custody since her arrest in April for allegedly planning to travel overseas and join the Sunni Muslim militant group.
Federal prosecutors charged the suburban Denver teenager with one count of conspiracy to provide material support to Islamic State, designated by the United States as a foreign terrorist organisation.
Wearing a head scarf, striped prison garb and handcuffs, Conley smiled at supporters as she was led into the courtroom.
Asked by U.S. District Judge Raymond Moore whether she understood that she was forfeiting certain rights by pleading guilty, she answered in a strong voice that she did.
She replied “yes” when he asked her if she was guilty as charged.
Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, is an al Qaeda offshoot that has been the target of U.S. air strikes and has been internationally condemned for its atrocities including the beheadings of U.S. journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley.
According to an arrest warrant affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint, Conley, a convert to Islam, corresponded online with a purported Islamist fighter from Tunisia.
She told investigators that she intended to marry the man, who was named for the first time in the plea agreement as Yousr Mouelhi, and join him and other Islamist fighters “to correct the wrongs against the Muslim world.”
Conley, who is a certified nurse’s aide, attended a camp run by the U.S. Army Explorers, a youth career exploration program, in Texas last year and planned to use that training to fight overseas and also to teach the Islamist rebels U.S. military tactics, the affidavit said.
Agents with a federal terrorism task force interviewed Conley several times to try to dissuade her, but she insisted that she wanted to travel overseas and wage war against infidels, the arrest affidavit said.
“When asked if she still wanted to carry out the plans, knowing they are illegal, Conley said that she does,” it said.
She was arrested at Denver International Airport as she prepared to board a flight to Germany.
In return for her plea, prosecutors recommended a lesser sentence provided she cooperates on any possible investigations into “terrorist organisations,” court documents showed.
The judge ordered Conley to undergo a mental evaluation before he sentences her in January, when she could face a maximum penalty up to five years in prison and a $US250,000 fine.
Public defender Robert Pepin said Conley is a practicing Muslim who was duped and became “horrified” when she learned of the “slaughter and oppression” practiced by Islamic State.
She knows the arrest likely saved her life, Pepin told reporters.
(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Mohammad Zargham and Eric Beech)
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